Americans are responding to the growing coronavirus pandemic by stocking up on essentials like toilet paper, eggs, milk -- and deadly guns and ammunition. But all of that firepower is likely to do more harm than good, as Americans continue to grapple with the anxiety and uncertainty ahead. Across the country, firearm shops are reporting a boom in sales, as customers line up to buy ammunition, handguns, shotguns, rifles -- and even the deadliest of assault weapons. "When I say sales have been booming, it s an understatement," David Stone, who works at Dong s Guns, Ammo and Reloading in Tulsa, Oklahoma, told the Los Angeles Times. Indeed, as one New York Times story phrased it, the FBI has processed "more background checks in February than it had done in all but two other months." Online websites like Ammo.com are also reporting a 68% increase in sales over the last month. But doomsday preppers and gun enthusiasts aren t the only ones buying the nation s gun and ammo inventory. Anecdotal reports from gun shop owners suggest that first-time purchasers are also getting in on the action. For example, Gabriel Vaughn, the owner of Sportsman s Arms in Petaluma, California, posted a video on Instagram, on March 14, noting a "huge influx in new, first-time buyers" and pleading with his regular clientele to be mindful of busy store staff during this period. "I can barely lift my head up to say hello to people," Vaughn said. Similarly, Cole Gaughran of Wade s Eastside Guns in Bellevue, Washington, reported an increase in first-time gun owners -- particularly among the Asian-American community. "The main thing I m hearing is that they don t want to get jumped because of their race," he told The Trace. The reported influx of new customers and uptick in background checks must be a welcome turnaround for an industry that has experienced sluggish sales over the last several years -- and its boosters are actively exploiting the coronavirus outbreak to help grow profits further. Last Friday, the National Rifle Association sent out an inflammatory "national alert" to its millions of members warning that "anti-gun extremists" in Champaign, Illinois, are using the emergency "to quietly pass and implement gun control schemes." Later that day, the city, which had issued an emergency declaration related to the coronavirus, issued a statement to respond to "false claims" about its order, pointing out that "there is currently no firearm ban and no intent to seize property or close businesses." A lawyer for the city said that using these powers would require city council approval. And independent gun sellers on ArmsList.com have begun selling a variety of guns with sales pitches like "Corona Virus preparedness kit," "Coronavirus panic killer!," "Coronavirus Zombie Protection." The gun and ammunition rush could lead to a spike in firearm suicides and domestic violence incidents, however. As Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva explained during a press conference on Monday, "buying guns is a bad idea." "You have a lot of people now who are at home, normally they re not, cabin fever sets in and you have a crowded environment," he said. "Weapons are not a good mix." Indeed, research has consistently found that firearms in the home significantly increase instances of suicide homicide -- and unintentional shootings. The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health has concluded that "every study that has examined the issue to date has found that within the U.S., access to firearms is associated with increased suicide risk," with one analysis showing that "suicides were almost twice as high in the high-gun states, even though non-firearm suicides were about equal." Other researchers found that residents in states with higher rates of gun ownership are more likely to be shot and killed by a family member or an intimate partner, with women facing the greatest risk. Each 10% increase in household gun ownership rates corresponded with a 13% increase in domestic firearm homicides, researchers at the University of Indianapolis reported in 2017. States with more guns also see more unintentional deaths. The mortality rate is seven times higher "in the four states with the most guns compared to the four states with the fewest guns," the Harvard researchers tell us. And, so, if the best way to stop the coronavirus pandemic is to listen to the guidance of health professionals and scientists, then Americans must also tune out the grifters who are using this crisis to sell more firearms and embrace the overwhelming and conclusive science around the dangers of gun ownership. If you re looking to protect your family, continue to buy food and basic essentials as needed, not guns and ammunition -- and then stay home.
The international community is facing an unprecedented challenge with the Covid-19 crisis — perhaps the first global crisis in the age of new social media. The challenge has turned international agendas and priorities upside down. Headlines are no longer dominated by war, conflict and terrorism. Governments foremost concern these days is to control the spread of the virus and prevent infections at home as international stock markets tumble, trade slows and the global economy veers towards recession. The impact of all this on growth rates and the standards of living of the poor and middle classes may be felt for years to come. Some economies can sustain the stiff measures needed to curb the spread of the virus. Other economies will be able to handle them for only so long after which hardship will set in. A third type of economy will be hit so hard from day one that it will require intervention on the part of international agencies such as the World Bank. Coronavirus will probably have a major impact on salient features of globalisation such as open borders and unprecedented freedom of movement. What with the levels of precautions taken by some countries at the epicentres, it is hard to imagine the world returning to business as usual, as was the case following other viral crises, such as SARS and MERS. Governments will be reviewing many policies related to travel and border controls, even if the international fight to combat Covid-19 proves quicker than some predict. On the other hand, some argue that while Coronavirus is a global crisis, it would be wrong to see it as a crisis of globalisation and they warn against reactions that hamper a rational and collective international response. In Egypt, the measures announced by the prime minister and other competent officials were timely and in line with measures taken by other countries. School and university classes have been suspended for two weeks. Football matches, concerts and other such activities have been cancelled. All government facilities are being sanitised. People have been urged to stay home as much as possible and avoid malls, clubs and other areas where they might come into contact with large numbers of people. In addition, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi announced last Saturday that the government would allocate LE 100 billion to fund a comprehensive containment and prevention plan. Noting that President Al-Sisi s decision to suspend classes was a necessary precaution to prevent contact between large numbers of people, Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouli said that the rate of infection in Egypt is still limited compared to other countries. Social media was instrumental in prompting swift action on the part of the government. Parents and guardians initiated a hashtag campaign calling on schools to suspend classes, a campaign that acquired momentum after the World Health Organisation announced that 300 million students were out of school worldwide due to temporary closures of educational institutions as part of precautionary measures undertaken in many countries. The Covid-19 pandemic is not just a test of how prepared societies are domestically to handle a dangerous illness, but also of the world s ability to work together as a single system to combat threats that no country can handle alone. This is both a lesson and an important opportunity. Hopefully, the world will learn how to unite effectively on this as well as other critical threats, such as global warming and, of course, armed conflict, which claims many more times the amount of victims as viruses.
2019 and 2020 had already been difficult years, crisis and adrenaline wise, in our household. During the summer, when I was a visiting poet at a residency out of state, an angry, confused woman wandered into my class and said: "I have three guns and I want to use em." We all froze. It wasn t totally clear if she had the guns, and in this world, at this moment, it didn t have to be. We each know that, when we teach in America, we are already in danger. I was dizzy with fear. My husband and kids were a few rooms away. The woman, who later turned out to be a schizophrenic without access to her medications, was, by some force, wrestled out and escorted away, then put in a hospital for observation, in a step that was actually safer for everyone than any one of us pressing charges. My class went on; we talked about poems. I d teach for two days and leave again. But despite the fact that the rest of our days on campus passed peacefully in the shadow of some incredibly beautiful mountains, I was rattled. I couldn t shake the sense that, in this country, at this moment, we always live at incredible risk. A few months later, crisis struck again. While my husband was locking his bike to drop off our 3-year-old daughter for her preschool-aged day camp, a different woman approached. Swiftly and for no apparent reason, she bent down, picked up our daughter, and began to carry her down the street. It was so fast and confusing that my daughter barely whimpered. My husband, in a burst of speed, chased the woman and reclaimed our daughter. The woman, clearly confused, retreated into the public library. A network of homeless people who generally know the other homeless in the area (what a gift their wisdom was that day) said they did not recognize the woman. The woman was so clearly unwell that when she was apprehended she was incoherent. Heartbreakingly, she called our daughter by the name of someone else s child. Each part of the episode was as haunting as it was terrifying. All of this was before Covid-19, which is now rapidly on the rise where we live in the Bay Area -- and the country -- through community transmission, and where, now starting tomorrow the six counties on the Bay Area will be proceeding under a shelter in place order. All of this was before the schools shut down and we all began to fear for ourselves and our parents and sick friends and elders -- and none of us could get a test for a disease we all soon might unwittingly be either catching or spreading. That is to say, even before Covid-19, we were all already living in the presence of vast public health epidemics: gun violence, poverty, homelessness. We were living through the epidemic of lack of decent access to health care, the epidemic of precarity and inequality, the epidemic of lack of access to mental health care. In the Bay Area, where an estimated 28,000 people each night already sleep on the streets, we were already living with an epidemic of lack of access to affordable housing. We were living this way year in and year out before the coronavirus threatened everyone who works in the gig or service economy with their jobs. In New York, where they didn t want to shut down the public schools because so many kids are homeless (schools are where large numbers of our kids must eat and do their laundry), we were already living with the public health crises of mass shelterlessness and child hunger. And all across America, we were already living with the radical unsafety of having a government that deliberately chooses to linger in ignorance by refusing to let the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention even study the causes of gun violence. What s different, of course, is the speed, visibility and sheer novel danger of this epidemic. Viruses clearly don t care whether we are rich or poor, white or black, gun owners or radical pacifists. As we watch this virus spread, it maps our interconnections. It reminds us that as humans we were never so very separate from one another -- we must meet and share services and trade goods and explore ideas and share food and yes, connect with one another to build a world. We share common breath. "No man is an island," John Donne wrote, and of course no woman, no child or nation is either. This virus (and the chaos it causes) reminds us of our common lives, our common breath, our deep dependence on interconnectedness: it shows that to thrive we must meet and build and plan and educate and heal and celebrate and make art and grow food and trade goods and eat together, because we are complex social artistic imaginative beings in a web, all attempting to share breath and resources on a planet. The virus reminds us that there is really no elsewhere, no place to retreat, no gated community whose walls will serve: We are all linked, and our health is a community function -- the well-being of others is also the well-being of ourselves. After a deeply bungled delay, the Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives came together on Friday to acknowledge what is happening to our economy and our health at once, and to pass a relief bill. We are told that, in theory at least, the late-arriving Band-Aids of widespread testing and paid sick leave are on the way -- though roadblocks have come up in the Senate that could delay final passage of the bill. The fact that the infection numbers continue to rise dramatically even in the face of deliberate ignorance and delay and ongoing lack of testing is also not reassuring. The fact that we are six weeks into a crisis that could have been actively prevented starting in late January, should give us all pause. Indeed each of us is afraid of being exposed to coronavirus, but the virus is exposing our wider fault lines as well. One reason that some Americans have been so slow to act is partly because we ve relied too long on systems that allow us to be complacent about sequestering ourselves from other people; because we ve tolerated a mediocre, partial, inefficient and expensive healthcare system. We ve veered towards an economics that allows some people to stockpile and privatize their access to good services, while others are increasingly left in the cold, or just plain out of luck. We have been living in an America still clinging to some notion of rugged individualism to its peril. As this virus escalates here, it does so partly because of the fault lines that were already endemic in this country. We stumbled because ignorant and racist forces allowed themselves to stall, believing they didn t need to respond or plan care for all by imagining that they could "other" the virus or the people that had it. We stumbled because we already fail to offer quick, affordable, efficient health care to all. We stumbled because key leaders have chosen widespread chaos and ignorance over knowledge that could be gained through quick, free, convenient widespread testing. We will continue to stumble and exacerbate our common risk where our lack of safety net puts people without insurance, or homes, or steady work in even greater danger. Last week, during a trip that was probably one of my last jaunts into public space for some time, I stood in an abandoned hotel lobby with the last remaining soul there -- a restaurant owner linked to the hotel who had just laid off 45 people, wage laborers who now have no job. He was stricken. "I don t have any back up way to pay them," he said, hoping that the government would find some way to help. Perhaps his wishes will come true, and perhaps this current bill will bandage up some of the encroaching damage. It may be that we can yet stem the worst of the carnage, and limp through. But the deeper problem is that were already tolerating the extent to which we live in fear in America, the extent to which we have let ourselves imagine and build privatized solutions, the extent to which we have been building those solutions at the edge of a great brink. I m incredibly privileged that, for now, my partner and I can weather this crisis working from home, homeschooling my kids, that for now we and our kids can sequester. For now, where we live, all public and work and school events are canceled, perhaps for the next 8 weeks, and we basically leave home only to run in large open spaces or to get vegetables. For the time being, we re here, in our bunker -- and believe me, I know we are lucky. But when we get a chance at public life again, I hope so much that all of us take the messages of this pandemic to heart: We are not healthy or safe when those around us are not healthy or safe. We can most thrive when others in our common public diverse world can also thrive. The health and well-being of others is vital to our own. And we are all linked. There really are no islands. There really are no gates.
The upheaval caused by the coronavirus – COVID 19 -- is all around us. And I know many are anxious, worried and confused. That s absolutely natural. We are facing a health threat unlike any other in our lifetimes. Meanwhile, the virus is spreading … the danger is growing … and our health systems, economies and day-to-day lives are being severely tested. The most vulnerable are the most affected -- particularly our elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions … those without access to reliable health care … and those in poverty or living on the edge. The social and economic fallout from the combination of the pandemic and slowing economies will affect most of us for some months. But the spread of the virus will peak. Our economies will recover. Until then, we must act together to slow the spread of the virus and look after each other. This is a time for prudence, not panic. Science, not stigma. Facts, not fear. Even though the situation has been classified as a pandemic, it is one we can control. We can slow down transmissions, prevent infections and save lives. But that will take unprecedented personal, national and international action. We must declare war on this virus. That means countries have a responsibility to gear up, step up and scale up. By implementing effective containment strategies. By activating and enhancing emergency response systems. By dramatically increasing testing capacity and care for patients. By readying hospitals, ensuring they have the space, supplies and needed personnel. And by developing life-saving medical interventions. And all of us have a responsibility, too. To follow medical advice and take simple, practical steps recommended by health authorities. In addition to being a public health crisis, the virus is infecting the global economy. Financial markets have been hard hit by the uncertainty. Global supply chains have been disrupted. Investment and consumer demand have plunged -- with a real and rising risk of a global recession. United Nations economists estimate that the virus could cost the global economy at least $1 trillion this year – and perhaps more. No country can do it alone. More than ever, governments must cooperate to revitalize economies … expand public investment … boost trade … and ensure targeted support for the people and communities most affected by the disease or more vulnerable to the negative economic impacts – including women who often shoulder a disproportionate burden of care work. Dear Friends, A pandemic drives home the essential interconnectedness of our human family. Preventing the further spread of COVID-19 is a shared responsibility for us all. The United Nations – including the World Health Organization -- is fully mobilized. As part of our human family, we are working 24/7 with governments, providing international guidance, helping the world take on this threat. We stand in full solidarity with you. We are in this together – and we will get through this, together. Thank you.
Across the nation, Americans are feeling anxious about the rapid spread of COVID-19, known as the coronavirus, and the threat it poses to our health, our loved ones, and our livelihoods. In response, Americans are stepping up -- doctors, nurses, and first responders are putting themselves on the line to care for those who are sick; schools, businesses, and organizations are cancelling classes and events; and individuals are making personal sacrifices, including self-quarantining, to slow the spread of the virus. We must all follow the guidance of health professionals and take the necessary steps to protect our communities and our nation. Nancy Pelosi just negotiated a deal with the administration to provide critical relief for our country during this pandemic. It will ensure that coronavirus testing is free for everyone, including the uninsured, and provide paid sick leave and food assistance for families that are hurting. These are critical steps to help those most impacted by the virus, and our nation is better off because of her leadership. Unfortunately, this virus has laid bare the severe shortcomings of the current administration. Public fears are being compounded by a pervasive lack of trust in this President, fueled by his adversarial relationship with the truth. Our government s ability to respond effectively has been undermined by the hollowing-out of our agencies and the disparagement of science. Our ability to drive a global response is dramatically undercut by the damage President Donald Trump has done to our credibility and our relationships around the world. And just yesterday, Trump flatly refused to take responsibility for the failure of testing to date. When asked a legitimate public health question, he said, "Yeah, no, I don t take responsibility at all." It is the job of the President to take responsibility -- and his response is unacceptable. We have to get to work immediately to dig ourselves out of this hole. That is why on Thursday of last week I released my plan to combat and overcome the coronavirus. It lays out immediate steps we must take to deliver a decisive public health response to curb the spread of this disease and provide treatment to those in need; and a decisive economic response that would deliver real relief to American workers, families, and small businesses — and protects the economy as a whole. The steps in the House bill are important, but we will certainly need to do more. The core principle is simple: public health professionals must be the ones making our public health decisions and communicating with the American people. First, anyone who needs to be tested based on medical guidelines should be tested — at no charge. The White House should measure and report each day how many tests were ordered, how many tests have been completed, and how many have tested positive. By next week, the number of tests should be in the millions, not the thousands. We should make sure every person in a nursing home, a senior center, or a vulnerable population has easy access to a test. Second, we need to surge our capability to both prevent and treat the coronavirus, and prepare our hospitals to deal with an influx of those needing care. Communities must have the hospital beds, the staff, the medical supplies, and the personal protective equipment necessary to treat patients. A week from now, a month from now, we could need an instant, 500-bed hospital to isolate and treat patients in any city in the country. President Trump should ensure FEMA is working with local authorities so that we are ready to do that. The Department of Defense should prepare for the potential deployment of its resources to provide medical facility capacity and logistical support. Third, we need to accelerate the development of treatments and a vaccine. In 2016, the Obama-Biden Administration passed the Cures Act to accelerate work at the National Institutes of Health, but now it must have every available resource to speed the process along. President Trump should fast-track clinical trials within the NIH, while closely coordinating with the Food and Drug Administration on trial approvals, so that the science is not hindered by the bureaucracy. He should also immediately restore the White House National Security Council Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense -- with a full-time, dedicated coordinator to oversee the response. The Obama-Biden Administration created that office to better respond to future global health threats after the Ebola crisis in 2014. It was designed for exactly this scenario. President Trump s administration eliminated the office two years ago. We must also face the second half of the challenge -- the economic pain the coronavirus will cause in our country. We must do whatever it takes and spend whatever it takes to deliver relief for our families and ensure the stability of our economy. This crisis will hit everyone, but it will hit folks who live paycheck-to-paycheck the hardest, including working people and seniors. Another tax cut to Google or Goldman Sachs or millionaires won t get the job done. We need to place our focus on those who will struggle just to get by: children who rely on school lunches, parents who are struggling with childcare costs, workers in the gig economy who lack unemployment insurance, people who have difficulty paying their rent or mortgage because they ve been laid off or had their hours cut, and small businesses that will be devastated as customers stay home and events are canceled. We need to give them relief. And it is a national disgrace that millions of our fellow citizens do not have a single day of paid sick leave. We will never fully solve this problem if we are unwilling to look beyond our own borders and engage fully with the world. A disease that starts any place on the planet can be on a plane to any city on earth a few hours later. We should be leading a coordinated, global response, just as we did for Ebola, assisting vulnerable nations in detecting and treating coronavirus wherever it is spreading. By cutting our investments in global health, this Administration has left us woefully ill-prepared for the exact crisis we now face. No President can promise to prevent future outbreaks. But I can promise you that when I m President, we will prepare better, respond better, and recover better. We will lead with science, listen to experts, and heed their advice. We will rebuild American leadership and rally the world to meet global threats. And I will always, always tell the truth. That is the responsibility of a President. Now, and in the difficult days that still lie ahead, I know that this country will summon our spirit of empathy, decency, and unity. Because, in times of crisis, Americans stand as one. I know we will meet this challenge — together.
One never ceases to be amazed at the pro-government media in Turkey. One minute they re cursing the Kremlin and calling Vladimir Putin a killer. The next minute the Russian bear is the cat s meow. But then they are only keeping in lockstep with a presidential palace that gives the wink to unlicensed mass demonstrations in front of Russian diplomatic missions and simultaneously restricts access to news sites and social media relaying news of the deaths of dozens of Turkish soldiers in Idlib that sparked the demonstrations two weeks ago. Then, the next day, after the summit in Moscow last Thursday, the occupant of that presidential palace is smiling at his Russian interlocutor and handing him a gold embossed invitation to a meeting of the Turco-Russian Cooperation Council in İstanbul to mark the centennial of their countries bilateral relations. As for the outcome of that summit, so much for the ultimatum Erdogan has reiterated for a month, ordering Syrian government forces to withdraw to the lines behind the Turkish observation posts in Idlib or else. The three-point “Additional Protocol to the Memorandum on Stabilisation of the Situation in the Idlib De-Escalation Area” that he signed with Putin on 5 March essentially recognises the new status quo on the ground. In addition to a halt to all military actions “along the line of contact” in the de-escalation zone, the agreement calls for the creation of a security corridor six kilometres deep to the south and six kilometres deep to the north of the M4 highway. On 15 March, the Russians and Turks will commence a joint patrol of that highway. Presumably, in the crucial interval before then, the two sides will be working to restrain the forces they back. It also gives time for one side — Damascus — to consolidate its new positions in the new territory it holds, which includes areas south of the M4, which had been part of the original de-escalation zone, not to mention the strategic M-5 highway that government forces captured recently. The agreement, worked out after six hours of talks, is not just a setback for Erdogan s Syrian ambitions. It looks like a form of punishment for Ankara s failure to fulfil its obligations in accordance with the Astana and Sochi agreements. “Turkey did not fulfil its commitments under the Astana Agreement,” said Professor Joshua Landis, director of the Centre of Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, as cited in Ahval, 23 February. Landis said that under the agreement, Turkey was supposed to ensure the withdrawal of Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) and their heavy weaponry from the planned demilitarised zone. Not only did Turkey fail to do this, but the group “continued to fire on Aleppo neighbourhoods and Syrian troops from the zone.” Thus, “far from containing HTS, Turkey even failed to prevent the group from expanding,” concludes Paul Iddon in Ahval. Citing another Middle East analyst, Kyle Orton, Iddon s article concludes that “the present situation was inevitable since the Assad regime and his Russian and Iranian backers are adamant about reconquering all of Syria and Turkey s ability to direct events on the ground is limited.” Erdogan tried and failed to play both ends against the middle, thinking that fuelling a reversion to the Cold War would better serve his ambitions. However, the West, which is growing weary of his games, went no further than pro forma declarations of support. NATO armed itself with Article 5 of its charter concerning aggression against a fellow NATO member, which is clearly not applicable in the case of Turkey s activities in Syria. In like manner, the UN pointed to Article 6 of its charter which, again, is not in Turkey s favour, given that the Turkish soldiers who were killed in Idlib sacrificed their lives in a military campaign that violated the sovereignty of another UN member state. Erdogan even turned to the US, only to receive the curt response that, as US Defense Secretary Mark Esper put it, US forces have no intention to return to the Syrian-Turkish borders. Frustrated at the corner into which he painted himself, Erdogan played the defiance card. The S-400 missile systems he purchased from Russia would go into operation in April as scheduled, he said. “The system belongs to us now that we ve taken delivery of it.” If the bravado is good for keeping supporters happy and diverting attention away from failures, even many in his own camp suspect he ll postpone that step at the last minute because of the spectre of sanctions that are hanging over his country s head. In all events, the opposition in Turkey is not so easily distracted. They continue to ask awkward questions such as what are the Turkish army s plans in Syria after more than 59 Turkish soldiers were killed there in less than a month? What steps is the army taking to bring HTS and other jihadist and terrorist groups under control in its areas of responsibility in Syria? Is Erdogan still pursuing the dream of overthrowing Al-Assad? The refugee question is another area where Erdogan s calculations may have backfired. Refugees have long served his demagogic purposes, as was the case when he lashed out against European “hypocrisy” on this question. On his way back from Moscow, he told his pool of reporters on board his presidential plane that the EU had given 700 million Euros to Greece to handle the refugee crisis at its borders and nothing to Turkey to deal with the same crisis. He also claimed that German Chancellor Angela Merkel had promised 25 million Euro for refugees, but that Turkey hasn t seen that money yet. The next day, Erdogan softened his tone and the Turkish coast guard in the northwest province of Edirne announced that it had received instructions to prevent migrants from crossing by sea to Greek islands in the Aegean. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis pointed to this as further proof that Turkish authorities had orchestrated the refugee crisis on their border. Accusing Erdogan of breaching the 2016 agreement with the EU on migration, Mitsotakis said Turkey “has systematically encouraged and assisted tens of thousands of refugees and migrants to illegally enter Greece. It has failed, and will continue to fail, should it continue to pursue this strategy.” Greece, with its many islands, is an easier target for Erdogan than Bulgaria which shares a 259-kilometre long border with Turkey. Bulgarian Defence Minister Krasimir Karakachanov said that Turkey had not let migrants move towards the Bulgarian border because his government had taken the necessary precautions to protect them years ago, thereby nullifying potential migrant pressures on the border. On Sunday, 8 March, Erdogan said that his government had not received the support it expected from the international community with regard to refugees, but that he hoped to reach a different result during his visit to Brussels the following day, at the invitation of EU Council President Charles Michel, whom Erdogan met in Ankara 4 March. However, European Commissioner for Budget and Administration Johannes Hahn has set out conditions in advance. He cautioned that the aid the EU gives Turkey to take care of refugees could be significantly less than under the previous agreement and that this aid would only be provided if “Ankara s blackmailing policy of sending refugees towards the EU is stopped”. Erdogan has previously called for changes to the refugee agreement. Green Party leader Annalena Baerbock, who called the current refugee agreement between the EU and Turkey a failure, would like to see a new agreement too. “Instead of this failed deal, we need a new agreement guaranteed by the rule of law, which learns from the mistakes of the past, ensures that people are well cared for and that the 27 EU states do not fall like dominoes when Erdogan blows once,” she told a German newspaper. If the EU follows her advise, Erdogan will feel significant blowback from his refugee gambits as well.
When the World Health Organization warned on Monday that the threat of a pandemic related to coronavirus has become very real, this means that we are facing a phenomenon that does not concern us alone. What is required now is to act with transparency in related to the reported cases in Egypt, but we should also avoid adapting what the government says to become simply a reaction to outside campaigns. There must be a clear conversation about the coronavirus outbreak — about Egypt s ability to prevent it and how (Egypt s capabilities) can be supported and developed — in addition to an accurate publication of the number of cases confirmed, the number of those who carry the disease (but are asymptomatic), and the number of those who have recovered. Perhaps one of the reasons for the high number of people infected with the virus in Italy is the expansion of authorities efforts to detect cases of the virus unlike the rest of Europe, where most countries have focused more on methods of prevention and treatment. This means that the figures of those who carry the virus are not the only serious threat. Certainly, Egypt needs to remain transparent about its ability to prevent the spread of the outbreak, and ask for help and support if there are shortcomings. In fact, there are incidents that require real effort to not be repeated. Photos went viral in many newspapers around the world, and were used by some Arab satellite channels, of thousands of Egyptians crowding (in front of the Central Public Health Laboratories in Downtown Cairo) to undergo a medical test to prove that they are not infected with the virus as a condition to travel to some Gulf countries. This should have been avoided. It is assumed that the Health Ministry would expect a relatively large number of people to go for the test, and the ministry should have provided more than one place to receive them so that these (types of) photos do not go viral. Some of us simply condemned the crowds without any effort to correct the actions of the government. As for the issue of the impact of the virus on tourism — it is a certain matter. This is a crisis that has hit the tourism sector across the globe and has nothing to do with Facebook posts. News on the infection of some tourists who visited Egypt recently, especially those from France and Germany, does not represent efforts to target Egypt. These reports are an acknowledgment of a reality that will unfortunately impact the tourism sector, and we have to deal with it. Again, Egypt should tighten preventative measures, (which would include) medical examinations for all those coming to Egypt. The virus does not discriminate. The first step is to study how to prevent the (spread of) the virus and to engage with the issue of the outbreak, not to remain preoccupied with responding to satellite channels that exaggerate in their reports or other forces acting in bad faith. The best way to battle rumors about the virus is for the government to do its homework on preventative measures, treatment and quarantine, and that any decision to close schools or take other steps come from a scientific evaluation of the risks associated with the spread of the virus in Egypt, not a reaction to rumors or false news and propaganda.
Egypt s leadership has chosen the negotiating path with Ethiopia to resolve the issue of filling the Renaissance Dam, based on its conviction that ensuring both parties interests is the best way to establish long-lasting, strong and cooperative ties. The win-win diplomatic approach has always been adopted by Cairo, especially when dealing with its neighbours, but under the condition that the interests of all parties are well-served. This diplomatic approach has been consistent with the endless ups and downs of Ethiopian policy and Egypt has extended its hands with good intentions to avoid any misunderstanding between the two countries that could negatively affect their ties. However, the Ethiopian side has not been able to understand the flexible stance taken by Egypt where the filling of the dam is concerned, because, after a long marathon of negotiations sponsored by the United States and the participation of the World Bank and Sudan s representatives, the Ethiopian delegation did not show up to sign a deal that was initially reached by all parties including the Ethiopians. Diplomacy can hardly explain such a situation, the only explanation could be seen within the context of the competition between Ethiopia s political parties for the parliamentary elections. The heated bidding among the electoral parties has turned the issue of the dam into a political auction where the Ethiopians have been mobilised to a war zone rather than a diplomatic stance that preserves the country s relations with its neighbours. Such a stance is clearly stated by Ethiopian Minister of Foreign Affairs Gedu Andargachew, who said, “The land is ours, the water is ours and the dam is ours.” Mr Andargachew seemed to be taking part in a political demonstration and his statement is clearly far beyond the diplomatic norms not to mention international law. His words are cheap political propaganda that should never be stated by a responsible statesman. He chose to ignore the rules of the international law and the traditions of history and geography, not to mention the importance of the Nile to Egypt. Historically, Ethiopia has relied on rainwater, whereas Egypt, as a downstream country, is heavily dependent on the River Nile and thus has well-established legal rights that should be observed for its people to survive. If Mr Andargachew has not yet realised these facts, then he should be told that his statements have had a negative impact on the negotiating environment. Egypt s patience should not be misinterpreted by the Ethiopian minister or anyone else. However, Egypt s insistence to reach a solution that takes into consideration the interests of the Ethiopian people has not been weakened simply because we do not believe that strong people should easily respond to such a political circus. Egypt knows for a fact that it will get its full rights and will never give up a single term of its historical and legal privileges. Taking care of Ethiopian interests will never come at the cost of Egypt s rights to the Nile. The fact that the Egyptian leadership is patient, hard to provoke and works to promote sustainable development in Africa does not mean that it is willing to back down to unreliable statements. This country has always sided with its African neighbors in issues of independence and development. Cairo has been working hard to help most African nations turn into giant economic powers. The current leadership has exerted great efforts to develop a network that connects the northern tip of the continent in Cairo down to its far southern part in South Africa, this in addition to the coastal road, the railway network and the electric connections. The current leadership has made it its priority to promote trade among African nations, in addition to several giant infrastructure projects that have been underway at several African states to enhance the technical, administrative and production capabilities. Ethiopia should have been part of such relentless efforts to build up a comprehensive African renaissance instead of limiting itself to the narrow scope of going all the way by itself to achieve progress while leaving behind the others. A big country like Ethiopia should not make the issue of filling its dam part of the election bidding, thus mobilising its people against Egypt. Cairo has never stood against the development of Ethiopia, not to mention the production of electricity from the Blue Nile. This stance has always been reiterated by Egypt and its diplomatic positions over the past few years, despite the fact that this country has the right to go as far up to the UN Security Council and the international courts to block the construction of the dam. But, Egypt believes that a friendly solution that serves everyone s interests will last longer and will always benefit all parties involved. Yet, if the Ethiopian leadership would go as far as ignoring the deal reached by the Sudanese, the Egyptians and its own delegate and sponsored by the US, then Cairo has the right to protect its interests as it could never ignore its peoples right to survive, develop and progress. Despite the fact that the leadership in this country is still looking forward to the Ethiopian side taking the issue seriously and responding wisely to the good intentions expressed by the Egyptian delegation, yet several scenarios have also been put in place in accordance with the expected responses from the Ethiopians. All parties should realise that we are running out of time and patience, which will not be in anyone s interest. The Ethiopian leadership should realise that its attitude will never lead to peace and development and will have serious consequences. Betting on time is not exactly the best way to settle such serious issues and it is certainly not the right path to enhance and promote bilateral ties based on mutual respect of each other s rights.
Notwithstanding the age factor, a heart attack last October, being a life-long socialist, and a defeat against Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic Party race for the presidency, US Senator Bernie Sanders, 78, is enjoying a robust lead in the polls against other Democratic Party contenders Pete Buttigieg, Michael Bloomberg and Joe Biden. However, only if he becomes the official Democratic Party nominee and also if he wins against incumbent US President Donald Trump in this autumn s US presidential elections, both of which are very uncertain scenarios at this point, can Sanders hope to implement his platform strategy, which is a stark contrast to the existing way of doing things in the United States. Dare we imagine real change in the making under Sanders s watch, and is the US even ready for such change? Sanders solidified his place in the race when he won the Nevada Party caucus, and it was then that people began looking at him as an actual contender for the presidency. A 31 per cent lead against the other Democratic Party nominees puts him in a good position to win more caucuses and to gain further ground. He is arguing for radical reform plans and a socialist course, and he has engaged in a verbal onslaught against the Israeli government, things which will likely make or break his path to the White House. Despite the sudden surge in his performance in the polls, Sanders has a long way to go. Buttigieg, much younger at 38 years old and the first openly gay candidate for the US presidency, is liked by many voters and stands second in the race for the Democratic Party nomination. Though Joe Biden is in fourth place, he hopes that having been vice-president to former president Barack Obama will stand him in good stead and attract the support of African-American voters. Billionaire candidate Michael Bloomberg may be able to transform the equation through his $434 million advertising campaign. Sanders describes himself as a democratic socialist, though according to the polls most American voters say they would be uncomfortable with a socialist president. However, his anti-establishment rant at how things have been run has hit a nerve with many voters in the US, especially younger ones. Sanders stresses the need to reverse economic inequality in the US because according to him the American middle class is disappearing. He champions expanding the social safety net in the country by a “Medicare for All” plan, a $15 per hour minimum wage, and tuition-free public college education. “I believe that in a democratic, civilised society healthcare is a human right. Government should make that happen. I believe that every young person in this country regardless of his or her income has the right to get all the education they need,” he has said. This is an admirable wish list, but it will be extremely difficult to achieve as it may reshape the capitalist contours of the US as we know it. In addition, implementing his reform plans would add trillions to the already unsustainable US national debt. “Medicare for All” alone would cost the US over $25 trillion. While total student loan debt stands at $1.6 trillion in the US today, the government would have to find the money to pay for free college tuition. The US minimum wage for 2020 stands at $8.72 per hour, though some states have opted to increase this. But a $15 minimum wage would have a huge impact on all levels of business in the country. Socialism falls between communism and capitalism: it relies on a socially owned economy that gives an important role and deserved equity to workers and unions versus privately owned corporations. A socialist US is something none of us could have anticipated seeing, but Sanders, a millionaire himself, dislikes millionaires and what they stand for and wants to see significantly higher taxes on the rich. “The only way we will win this election and create a government and economy that work for all is with a grassroots movement the likes of which has never been seen in American history,” he says. Sanders may also end up being the first Jew to lead the US, but he has not let his religion play a role in his political views, and he may be the only US presidential candidate ever to side with justice and human rights as far as the Palestinians are concerned. He does not favour Israelis over Palestinians and believes that the Palestinians should have a state of their own. He also believes that supporting Israel should never be at the expense of the Palestinians. In fact, his view of the Israeli government is very telling. He makes a clear distinction between the people of Israel and its government. When asked about the relationship between the US and Israel, Sanders said that “to be for the Israeli people and to be for peace in the Middle East does not mean that we have to support the right-wing, racist governments that currently exist in Israel.” While the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and other Zionist lobby groups play an influential role in all presidential races in the US by donating millions of dollars to the nominee who will ultimately be the most supportive of Israel, Sanders has openly blasted AIPAC, accusing it of bigotry and vowing not to attend its annual conference, normally a prerequisite for potential presidential candidates and for in-office presidents. Then again, Sanders also lost family members in the Holocaust, which may give him a boost as far as regular, but influential, non-Zionist Jews are concerned. Bernie Sanders is up against many obstacles and hurdles in the US presidential race, but if he wins, we may see a different US, one that is more compassionate and just to its own people and to others. More important then would be whether he will be able to realise the promises he has made or whether he will stumble before the many hurdles that may turn out to be impossible to overcome.
The words of former culture minister Farouk Hosni, in his opinion article in al-Ahram newspaper, have brought me back to what I wrote here in September, “Before constructing buildings.” Let s start with what the former culture minister said ¬— wishes and hopes yet to be realized. He wrote that there was one decision he was intending to make, but hadn t had enough time. The project would have been to turn the unique building of the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square to the most important center for Egyptology in the world. According to Hosni, that center would have housed an exhibition hall for artifacts from different Egyptian museums, and these pieces would be replaced with others every 6 months. The center would also include a school for Egyptology that receives students of Egyptology from arounds the world. With the most prestigious schools in this field located inn Egypt, we would provide foreign visitors and scholars with a distinguished and unparalleled cultural and scientific environment. In my opinion article entitled “Before constructing buildings,” I wrote that discussions have begun about using the area where the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir is located to establish a world trade center, a global hotel chain, or tourism projects, administrative buildings, commercial centers, etc. These (ideas) are being suggested while Egypt is about to open the Grand Egyptian Museum in Giza, with many unique artifacts having been moved to it from the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir. Some thought that this is an opportunity to own the empty land plot overlooking the Nile, despite the confirmation of its ownership by the Egyptian Museum with certified documents and records. Archaeologists defend the museum s ownership of this plot of land and demand it be annexed to the museums campus as a pharaonic-influenced garden, as well as a center for archaeological research and cultural events for the public and tourists, as is typical in all museums around the world. This proposal has been seconded by late archaeologist Abdel Halim Nour El-Din, the archaeologist Zahi Hawass, and former Antiquities Minister Mohamed Ibrahim, and I do not know that a single archaeologist or intellectual opposes this vision. Former culture minister Farouk Hosni s idea to turn the Egyptian Museum into the most important center for Egyptology in the world is related to current proposals, and reflects from everyone an appreciation of the value and history of the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir and its extension on the Nile. A final note: the extension of the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir, after the demolition of the National Democratic Party s (NDP) building years ago, has been surrounded by an iron fence, which has now been removed and replaced by a concrete wall that obscures the view. Why? Is there a business behind it that we do not know about? Or (one) on its way?
“The full court in all their divine regalia assembled in the Hall of Justice where towering walls of sacred glyphs soared to the ceiling far above, a shimmering golden sea of human dreams. Osiris presided on his golden throne. To his right sat Isis on her throne and to his left sat Horus on his. Thoth, the Scribe of the Gods, sat cross-legged a short distance away, the Book of All open on his lap. Ranged along either side of the great hall were rows of chairs, gilded in the purest gold, awaiting those destined for salvation. Since time immemorial, said Osiris, commencing the proceedings, it has been determined that the souls of humankind shall follow their bodies like a shadow through their days upon the earth, then pass beyond, across the threshold of death, bearing their deeds and intentions embossed on their naked shrouds. After great deliberation, it has been determined that this is the hour of truth and, thus, the court shall now convene for a lengthy journey. Osiris then nodded to the young Horus who announced in a sonorous boom: King Mena! ” In Naguib Mahfouz s novel, Before the Throne (1983), all the rulers of Egypt, from Mina to President Anwar Al-Sadat, were summoned before the great court to recount their deeds. The novel is long, intentionally so, because it covers millennia in the relationship between Egypt s rulers and their subjects and between Egypt and its neighbours. Egyptian history has brought rulers to account for 5,000 years. The “Osirian” faith prevailed during 3,000 years of this history, Christianity for several centuries and then Islam for the many centuries since the Arab Muslim conquest. But the court was not interested in a ruler s religion but rather in the fact that he was an Egyptian who lived his whole life in Egypt and dedicated himself faithfully and courageously to protecting the Egyptian people and their welfare. The ancient Egyptian faith had the magnanimity to accept diversity in the religions that accepted monotheism and were grounded in nobility of conscience. If the verdicts passed on the pharaohs of the Old, Middle and Late Pharaonic kingdoms harked back to “Osirian” laws, since Muqawqis came to Egypt the judgements were based on the recommendations handed down by an imagined court of a later faith. The court could issue three types of verdicts: the ruler could be granted immortality and join the court, he could be pronounced guilty and condemned to a hellish afterlife, or he could be sent to the tomb of “the inconsequentials”. Many rulers were admitted to the ranks of the immortals. Either their accounts of their glories and services to the country and its people spoke for themselves, or Isis intervened, citing the testimony of one of her children and pleading sympathy for the ordeal the ruler endured in his struggle to do what was right. Naturally, she had no mercy for those who rebelled and betrayed her trust. After Sadat is admitted to the immortals in Before the Throne, Isis addresses them: “Let each of you pray to his god to bestow on Egypt the wisdom and strength to remain an eternal beacon of guidance and beauty,” after which all allowed to remain in the great hall bowed their heads in prayer. The novel bears all the hallmarks of Naguib Mahfouz s art. But we re not here to discuss the craft of this Nobel laureate or literature in general, but rather the political element in this work and, specifically, politicians in power. Its subject is the Egyptian state from antiquity to modern times. At the moment of the trial of Sadat, it brings all Egyptian leaders into the court, whether known for their might, their justice or their advocacy of integrity. Naturally, Mina, Tutankhamen and Ramses II are present. So too are Saad Zaghloul and Mustafa Al-Nahhas. Gamal Abdel-Nasser defends his place among the immortals and expresses his dismay at what came after him. This is not the only Mahfouz novel that draws comparisons between Egypt s rulers. In Qushtumur (The Coffeehouse), coffeehouse denizens have their say and Akhenaten, Dweller in the Truth speaks of relations between power and the people, a subject that is given a different treatment in Children of Gebalawi and Harafish where power turns more concrete or metaphysical. Mohamed Hosni Mubarak had been in power for some time when Before the Throne appeared in bookstores. He would leave power three decades later, in 2011. Those 30 years placed him alongside Ramses II and Mohamed Ali in terms of longevity as head-of-state, but he is the only Egyptian leader to endure nine years of actual trials after leaving power. Mubarak had many honourable virtues, not least the military ones. He was a model Egyptian soldier: courageous, capable, patriotic, self-sacrificing. He served in active combat, as a pilot in 1956, 1967 and 1968-1970, and as an air force commander in the October 1973 War. After that, Sadat chose him from among all other military commanders to serve as his vice president, during which period he trained in diplomacy, politics and political sagacity. While Mubarak, after coming to power, remained committed to implementing the peace agreements with Israel, he refused to give the Israelis room for evasion. When Taba came under contention, he did not hesitate to fight the complex and critical arbitration battle to the end. He won. Not a single centimetre of Egyptian territory remained under occupation. But Mubarak did not eliminate war as a political option. His courageous decision to participate in the war to liberate Kuwait reflected a transformation in Egyptian relations with the Gulf states. Not only had Egypt proven itself a reliable partner in war, it had acquired the diplomatic clout to serve as a mediator in the Khufous crisis between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. This was consistent with an important tenet in Egyptian strategy: Egyptian-Gulf relations needed to be strong in the face of regional and international challenges. As Mubarak stands “before the throne” he will also be able to offer abundant evidence of infrastructural development in a country in which infrastructure had deteriorated to the point of near collapse during the two decades since the June 1967, when development ground to a halt. Most likely, he will also explain his economic policies which, after a period of wavering, settled on the need for economic structural reform, which included shifting the geo-economic keel outward from the eternal Nile through the deserts to the shores of the Red Sea and Mediterranean. Naturally, he had his flaws. He hesitated too long before resolving on reform and, when he did, he was perhaps too cautious, which left many gaps in the economy. These were exploited by “money management firms” and the Muslim Brotherhood who ran them as they leveraged themselves back into politics behind the facade of the Wafd Party or the Labour Party. All this created a brew in which terrorism could and did rear its head. However, Mubarak ultimately prevailed in the round of the 1990s, making it possible to set Egypt on course to serious reform. The revolution came anyway, and now historians will have their say. But there is no doubt that Mubarak was true to his word, an Egyptian to the core, and a patriot devoted to serving his nation and its people. May he rest in peace.
Since December, Washington has been helping Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia hammer out an agreement acceptable to them all and that they would sign the final text at the end of February. In an unexpected move, Ethiopia refrained from attending the last round in a series of negotiations that started four months ago. “President Trump made a priority to try and work with each of the three significantly impacted countries to try and get a good outcome for all of them, to effectively mediate. And so we ve been working on this… many of the elements of an agreement are now moving closer to finality, but there s still work that remains,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said during a joint press conference in Addis Ababa on 18 February, referring to the crisis over the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). He did not specify what work remains. He also said, “I think there s a solution that will work, but our mission is not to impose a solution on this, but rather to get the three countries to come together around a solution that each of them acknowledges works for the concerns of all three nations.” It appears that the US has been let down, by Ethiopia in particular. Ethiopia refrained from signing, claiming the need for more consultations. Egypt signed the agreement even though it did not meet all of its demands, especially concerning the amount of water it would receive during the first filling of the dam, which will be 37 billion m3 of water. Egypt s current quota of Nile waters is 55 billion m3 per year. During the negotiating rounds in December, Egypt indicated a willingness to accept 40 billion m3 in order to give Ethiopia the chance to fill the reservoir sufficiently to begin electricity production within a reasonable period of time but without causing a major water crisis for Egypt. Pompeo may have suspected that Ethiopia would refrain from signing the agreement at the scheduled time. Perhaps this is what he meant by “there s still work that remains.” But “refraining” is not “refusing” which offers the US an opening to deal with the embarrassment. Washington may be convinced that Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed really needs time to consult with others in Ethiopia where the federal system limits his powers to take major decisions and where opposition groups and other rivals may seize on any lapses or mistakes to score points in the domestic power game. On the other hand, Washington may take advantage of Ethiopia s stance in order to assert pressure on Egypt on other issues of concern to US interests in the Arab region. Perhaps this is to be inferred from Pompeo s remark that the US had no intention of pressuring any of the three parties to sign the agreement. Washington knows that Ethiopia is unlikely to sign unless Washington pressures it to do so. Egypt hopes for something more from an important ally such as Washington, especially when it comes to such a vital question as water resources. Certainly, Egypt has shown itself to be committed to the spirit of the US mediating efforts, even if all its demands have not been met. Washington will hopefully take Egypt s cooperative and constructive attitude into account during its communications with Addis Ababa over the coming months. Ethiopia was present in every negotiating round. The agreement that stood ready for its signature was built on years of technical studies and featured rules and principles for filling and operating the dam conducive to the fulfilment of Ethiopia s right to benefit from its ambitious project as soon as possible without causing significant harm to Egypt. Egypt, meanwhile, is clearly the party that made significant compromises in order to enable Ethiopia to achieve its developmental aspirations. Egypt also refrained from putting the US, as a mediator, in an awkward position, unlike Ethiopia. Fortunately, remarks by another US official have helped allay some of Egypt s concerns over certain parts of Pompeo s statement, especially the vague reference to work that still remains and the suggestion that the US mediating role is so neutral that it doesn t have the power to pressure a party that creates obstacles for no convincing reason. It was US Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin who offered the much needed clarification and reassurance. In his statement on 28 February, Mnuchin said that the US looked forward to Ethiopia concluding its internal consultations “to provide for the signing of the agreement at the earliest possible time” and stressed that “final testing and filling [of GERD] should not take place without an agreement.” He added, “We also note the concern of downstream populations in Sudan and Egypt due to unfinished work on the safe operation of the GERD, and the need to implement all necessary dam safety measures in accordance with international standards before filling begins.” Mnuchin s statement indicates that the US may be prepared to pressure Ethiopia. It tells Addis Ababa that Washington can understand the Ethiopian government s need for further consultations, but that it would not find it acceptable if that plea for time turned out to be a pretext for evading its commitments and for attempting to fill the dam and produce a fait accompli before an agreement is signed. Certainly, it is not in Washington s interests to forego its responsibilities towards Egypt, an important ally that has shown its flexibility throughout the negotiations, in contrast to Ethiopia s obstructiveness. If Ethiopia continues to procrastinate in order to impose de facto realities harmful to Egypt, Cairo will have no alternative other than to bring the matter to the UN Security Council. In this case, Ethiopia would be angered if this question is brought to the UN Security Council which could sanction Ethiopia without US opposition.
I wholeheartedly agree with those experts who go beyond the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and are now calling Covid-19 a pandemic. With evidence of sustained person-to-person transmission on multiple continents, it s time to stop focusing on containment and work instead to harden our domestic healthcare infrastructure. As an emergency physician at an urban hospital in Washington, DC, this is personal. My colleagues and I will be on the front lines as American emergency agencies will soon likely experience a large and sustained surge of patients with Covid-19 concerns. The public should find comfort that health experts have been preparing for weeks. There is, however, still much work to be done. I will likely become infected in the next few months. It s just simple math that I have accepted. But I became a physician knowing the job incurred risk and that I have a duty to patients and society. Based on what we know today, my risk of getting severely ill or dying from Covid-19 is low. I am fortunate to be relatively young and healthy, but that is not the case for other medical colleagues who are likely to become infected as well. Protecting our workforce is critical. Healthcare workers who are infected or exposed without protective gear won t be able to work while contagious. Yet we need them to care for new Covid-19 cases as well as patients with all of the other diseases and traumatic injuries that will continue to occur. Heart attacks and strokes are not taking a break while the virus is here. How can we be proactive about protecting our healthcare workers? To start, we need to consider protecting our older colleagues and those with certain preexisting medical conditions. We may even need to decide that only young and healthy doctors and nurses should be triaging and caring for these patients. I m in. But is this discriminatory or putting too much risk on the young? I m not sure. As the novel coronavirus spreads, we can be certain that a number of medical staff will need to miss work because they or their families are ill. What we don t yet know is for how long. It is imperative that we fund research to determine how long the infected are contagious and when people can safely return to work so that we can keep our healthcare systems working and our economy from suffering. Telemedicine can play a major role in this outbreak by allowing providers to avoid proximate risk of infection while electronically visiting large numbers of patients daily. Even infected or exposed doctors can "stay in the fight" by performing telemedicine visits while quarantined. In addition to concerns about infection among the workforce, space in emergency departments will be an issue. Most urban emergency departments are already operating at maximum capacity every day. As a disaster medicine specialist, my biggest concern is that ERs and clinics could become overwhelmed by the "worried well" and the minimally ill. Unnecessary visits by those with mild viral illness risks not only exposure to other ED patients, but also increases the risk of illness to the medical staff. In addition, if our ambulances are busy transporting patients who are only worried or mildly ill, they will have slower response times to critically ill patients who truly need paramedic care. It is possible that people could die from health system disruption without ever having contracted the actual virus. An EMS delay of only a few minutes could mean that those having heart attacks, strokes, diabetic emergencies, opiate overdoses and trauma have a higher risk of death. Because of these concerns, the public should expect to be asked in the coming weeks to avoid health system visits unless they have significant symptoms or risk factors. I suggest that healthcare facilities explore the creation of separate care areas for patients presenting with respiratory symptoms and possible Covid-19 in an effort to keep all those possibly contagious away from those being seen for other conditions. We must ensure the public knows we are open and preventing spread from one patient to another. Don t be surprised if your local ED will need to add temporary structures such as a large outdoor tent to evaluate those concerned that they have been exposed to the coronavirus. While healthcare workers and policymakers are currently laser-focused on Covid-19, the epidemic requires a coordinated response that extends beyond the healthcare system. Elected and appointed leaders must communicate with the public clearly, honestly and often. Healthcare experts should be a key part of this communication. Meanwhile, employers large and small must enact public health measures, part of which should include requirements that sick employees stay home and guarantees that they will not be penalized for doing so. Should people wear surgical masks when they go out? Yes, if you have even a mild cough. This will minimize infected droplets from your mouth and nose. Staying home if possible is preferable. Washing your hands often is essential. But remember that masks offer minimal protection to the individual. Surgical masks (the "blue ones") are not designed to filter the air you breathe -- they are designed to catch droplets of the person wearing it, primarily to keep surgeons from contaminating a surgical site. Even the special N-95 filter masks, designed to be true virus protection and now in short supply, are effective only if properly fitted and worn over clean-shaven faces. To those in healthcare -- get fit-tested immediately, shave your beards and resist the temptation to hoard the masks at home. Hospitals will need these masks on hand and must immediately enact measures to ensure that mask theft is eliminated. I get asked several times per day, "Should I be worried?" The answer is yes, but only to an appropriate degree. This will get worse before it gets better. We don t know if it will go away when it gets warm (keep an eye on transmission in the tropics), nor do we know for sure if reinfection is possible. One thing is certain: panic helps nobody. Heed the advice of medical professionals, not social media. Trust the US CDC recommendations and be confident in the fact that every physician, nurse, EMS worker and healthcare administrator is giving Covid-19 their fullest attention.
With domestic shifts in the US, Russia, China and the European Union impacting on the international order, forecasts about what the year could bring centre on two main conclusions. The first has to do with the varying outcomes of the influence of domestic affairs on the foreign policy course adopted from one country to another. Preparing for elections this year, the US, for example, is focusing on its domestic affairs more than foreign policy issues. Most probably, US foreign policy will be employed to serve the elections, even if this means being involved in limited foreign military operations. In the case of China, domestic issues tend to reflect in a conciliatory tone in its foreign policy, as long as the matter is not related to sovereign issues (Taiwan, the South China Sea). Although there has been a change in China s foreign course during the tenure of President Xi Jinping, gradual transformation remains a major feature of Chinese foreign policy, along with the concern to secure the international conditions necessary to protect China s ascension. When it comes to the European Union, there is a host of domestic issues affecting its foreign policy, such as the rise of the populist right, increased polarisation and tensions between regions and major cities benefiting from or harmed by globalisation, the rising risk of secession, especially in Spain following Brexit, as well as varying military spending and financial policies. These issues tend to restrain the foreign performance of the European Union and end in weak coordination between member countries regarding a number of crucial foreign policy issues, such as the relationship with the US and Russia, the future of NATO and European military coordination. The second conclusion relates to the pattern of interactions between the four major powers during 2020, as Russian-US relations are expected to become more polarised and confrontational on a wide range of issues, while Russian-European relations may improve due to a combination of factors, including continued European dependence on Russian gas. China s relation with Russia may lead to more coordination and cooperation as long as it does not intensify US-Chinese polarisation. Finally, European-US relations may be further strained by a combination of factors, such as disagreement over how to deal with Russia, and the gas issue. It is in the light of these two dynamics that expectations can be drawn as to the course of the world s most powerful countries, based on domestic developments in 2019, some of which may continue to reverberate this year.
Over recent weeks, serious tensions grew within the football matrix here in Egypt. This matrix includes all the different dimensions involved, from organisational entities to professional players and managers, and finally — very specific to Egypt — security institutions. There is a process of constant adaptation from each of these dimensions in order to get the wheels in motion and the matrix eventually working. This does not mean that Egypt enjoys efficiency in administering football; rather, it means that Egypt lacks a professional set of rules and regulations to conduct an institutionalised national football domain. And there is always an eye on the consequences of any problems related to football due to the significance of the social and political zones football occupies in the public sphere. Very few activities during this time in Egypt are built on a diverse platform that connects state to society, to the media, to economic development, and finally to millions of Egyptians that are easily mobilised under a specific banner. Therefore, the contentious scene that took place over the past week, and ended Monday, 24 February, is a matter of concern, with the possibility that the truce that was struck will be short-lived, and that contention will spark up again soon. Due to how irrationally and randomly football is run in Egypt, timings and scheduling in the national league have always been a problem. Some seasons are extremely compressed, increasing the level of tension between clubs. Ahly and Zamalek are the two biggest football clubs. The Egyptian domestic league is composed of 18 teams, some with significant popularity, like Ismaily, Masry and Itihad. These clubs often complain about a lack of equal opportunities compared to the two big clubs. In turn, the two big clubs complain about a lack of objectivity in the administration of national football — that the Egyptian Football Association (EFA) routinely favours one team over the other. These squabbles turned football into a platform of polarisation. After a heavy month of difficult matches for both Ahly and Zamalek, Zamalek challenged EFA, saying that it would not play the Cairo Derby with Ahly on Monday, 24 February, as scheduled because no time was left for the team to practice and rest before another match in the African Champions League, scheduled for Friday, 28 February. According to the prevailing rules and regulations, teams who refuse to play a scheduled match and withdraw from them are considered to have forfeited the game. However, the president of Zamalek challenged EFA, saying that no one dares to deduct even a single point from Zamalek, a warning sign of the confrontation between the various actors in the football matrix in Egypt. When football enjoys a fan base that exceeds that any other social or political activity, this polarisation and escalation, played out also in the media and on social networking sites, exports more problems to society and the state. Sports media specifically has a great deal of influence over the perceptions of fans in such moments of conflict. Meanwhile, social media platforms, mainly Facebook and YouTube, are becoming ever more critical, exhibiting the growing gap between fans and club administrations, with football emerging as a potential threat to social stability. Needless to say, the media itself radicalises, if slowly, in order to secure more viewership. What will happen remains to be seen. A new confrontation may commence after Ahly and Zamalek play their African championship matches. If this happens, the state of polarisation could be expected to escalate, leading to one of two things. First, football, after attempts at de-politicising it over the past few years, could become once more a stage of ever widening confrontation. Second, and if not checked, the overall effect of growing and escalating tensions will make the financial aspect of investing in the game not so appealing, damaging the prospects of investing in sports more widely in Egypt. We are walking on thin ice. Reform, of course, is still an option. But it would have to be reform based on treating the root causes of contention, and not merely the symptoms. Ahly and Zamalek may be a starting point, but what actually matters is reforming the matrix or the whole framework by which Egyptian football is governed. Reducing polarisation and managing hate speech within the sports media is also necessary. Finally, with each important football event, Egypt demonstrates its ability to provide security at football games. But the point can easily be reached beyond which it is no longer in the interest of Egyptian security institutions to direct resources to managing public disorder at events that can just as well happen behind closed doors.
Will legalizing “Sais” (unauthorized individuals in Egypt who collect fees from residents for parking their cars on public streets) be passed unchallenged? Will we witness a law issued by the House of Representatives for a group of people who have no profession and no real work, except for violating the rights of people on (public) streets, which are considered public property protected by the law? Is maximizing the resources of the municipalities achieved through payment of LE 2,000 that they would receive in exchange for the so-called license for “Sais” workers, who will use the license to collect more than that compensation in one day? Are these individuals involved in unofficial economic activity — as they continue to claim — that should be protected and legalized by the government? Can they be trusted on the level of security? What about the citizen, his rights, and the duty to protect him from the domination of those individuals who now illegally receive payment for parking cars in public streets? What will happen when (the activities of Sais) are legalized through an enforced law? What are the MPs doing to the people? One citizen, expressing the sentiments of many others, commented: How can this happen? This is a crime of (Sais) occupying public roads, imposing (their) power, bullying residents, and vandalizing their cars if those residents do not pay them, and at best, it is begging, which is a crime in and of itself. Legalizing a crime is a crime, and a waste to the value of work and damaging to the standing of the government. Another commented that the spread of Sais workers in the streets destroys the image of the government and hurts tourism and investment. Yet another citizen remarked that there is no country in the world with thugs who park cars in the streets except in Egypt, with previously unauthorized Sais workers to be protected by the new law. There used to be ticket counters in the downtown area of Cairo, and I think in Alexandria as well, to collect fees in exchange for parking cars in a civilized way known all over the world, with revenues used to improve roads and other services. The counters are now gone, and bullying by the Sais workers has appeared (in their place). Moreover, the matter has become worse, with Sais now mandatory on every street, having spread (across Egypt s cities) like an epidemic. Now, parliament is stepping in to legalize this anomaly, giving Sais legal protection. A perilous road ahead foretells of possible clashes between citizens and Sais, quarrels that will not end soon. The Egyptian street does not need this, and therefore caution must be exercised going forward.
When US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo proclaimed at the Munich Security Conference: “The West is winning!”, he was referring to the battle for world hegemony. One was reminded of a Francis Fukayama s declaration, in the early 1990s, of the “The End of History.” Yet, the reverse is unfolding in the world around us today. The US is withdrawing from many parts of the world and Western countries, as a whole, are shutting their doors to other peoples in the world, and in many ways the West is becoming unravelled due to political and ethnic divisions. The EU is a salient example. This major landmark of Western political and economic capacities faced a debilitating blow with the UK s decision to leave it and follow another path to development, whether in the framework of the Commonwealth, the transatlantic bond or a renewed quest for empire. The Egyptian diplomat Gamal Abul-Hassan wrote in Al-Masry Al-Youm: “In 1970, Asia (including Japan) contributed 19 per cent of the global GDP, or global world product (GWP), and the West 56 per cent. Today, after only three generations, Asia contributes 43 per cent and compared to the West s 37 per cent. This is the most important transformation in the world today. It is a transformation that occurred after around three centuries of Western global hegemony, militarily, economically and culturally. The world in which we live today is more diverse and pluralistic. It is therefore more competitive, which makes for a greater likelihood that the competition will escalate into an open conflict between global poles.” The abovementioned numbers could be somewhat misleading. The West benefited greatly from the economic booms in countries that were defeated in World War II (such as Japan) and the Korean War (South Korea). Then once they attained prosperity, the new ratios of shares in the GWP did not necessary impact on the West s “cultural hegemony” or its unqualified lead in aerospace and technology in general. Nevertheless, the numbers do speak of new power balances in the world. Pompeo s remark was actually more of a response to the US s predicament than a defence of the “West” and its global status. The predicament arises from the US s strategic reorientation. Washington is in a state of withdrawal, not just militarily from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, but from the world. It is reformulating its existence in Japan, Europe and South Korea. It is no longer interested in defending common interests with its allies. It is interested in defending US resources from alliances and mutual defence pacts. The US is closing itself off to the “outside”. It is building all sorts of walls, and not just the wall with Mexico and South America. It is changing immigration laws to make the visa process more heavily selective in favour of whites and Christians. It withdrew from the Paris climate accord even though the US is primarily responsible for global warming and now ranks second to China in generating greenhouse emissions. Washington s insularism has been challenged by the “globalised” outlook of the Democratic Party, which is growing vociferous these days due to the primaries and the nominees eagerness to best each other in attacking Trump s policies. But the US is not just caught between the president and the opposition. It is also caught between rival outlooks among strategic thinkers. In its latest issue, March/April 2020, Foreign Affairs featured three recent strategic assessments of US foreign policy and republished one dating from April 1973 when the Vietnam War was still in progress and the Cold War was at its height. The latter article is called, “The Case for Strategic Disengagement.” Written by Earl Ravenal, it epitomises the debate that prevailed in the US nearly half a century ago and helps give perspective. The other three articles epitomise the US s confusion today. One writer, Stephen Wertheim, argues in favour of the US s withdrawal from world leadership. Beneath the title, “The Price of Primacy: Why America Shouldn t Dominate the World,” he voices not only the prevalent cost-conscious conservative outlook but also the more progressivist view that world domination jeopardises US values. Thomas Wright, beneath the title, “The Folly of Retrenchment: Why America Can t Withdraw from the World,” argues precisely the opposite: that withdrawal will expose these values to risk. Graham Allison takes a different tack. His article, “The New Spheres of Influence: Sharing the Globe with Other Great Powers,” takes us back to distant eras when the greatness of powers was measured by their hegemony over other countries and regions, or their “spheres of influence”. He reminisces on the Monroe Doctrine that proclaimed the entire Western Hemisphere — the whole of North and South America — as the US s “sphere of influence” historically, geographically, and of course militarily. He also reminds us of other geopolitical concepts, such as political realism, when he acknowledges that, indeed, “something about geopolitics had changed”, but insists that what mattered now was to identify what exactly the change was so that the US could adjust to it. Throughout history, the world was divided into spheres of influence. In antiquity, you had the Hellenic world versus the Persian Empire and the Eastern Roman versus the Western Roman Empires. Moving through the medieval to the modern eras, you have Portugal versus Spain in the Old and New Worlds, the European powers versus each other in the Napoleonic era, France versus Britain in the colonialist era, and the US versus the USSR in the Cold War era. What about today? Do we not have Washington versus Beijing and Moscow? The US, despite its decline from the fourth largest contributor to GWP after World War II to seventh today, still dominates the world of technology and it holds a near monopoly on the realms of space and the internet. Yet, China is the world s largest exporter and second largest importer, and its Belt and Road Initiative places it at the hub of a major international bloc. Russia is not about to revive the USSR because with the collapse of the Soviet bloc Russia shrank back into its earlier borders and its population shrank to half that of the USSR. However, Moscow remains a major military and nuclear power, and it is continuing to build these strengths. It also understands how to operate in a tripolar world. Graham Allison advocates neither a US-centred globalisation for a US retrenchment, but rather a division of spheres of influence. Is this so different from Trump s outlook?
Joe Biden is banking on South Carolina to save his sinking candidacy. Once deemed the front-runner of the crowded 2020 Democratic presidential primary field, he now has to prove he is up for the country s top spot as other contenders are gaining steam. Coming off two poor performances in both Iowa and New Hampshire and a very distant second-place finish in Nevada, the campaign has set its sights on the Palmetto State with the hope that a more diverse electorate can pump life back into his lackluster candidacy. But his poor and underwhelming performances thus far have many wondering what s going on with his campaign. Interestingly, we ve seen this before. Think back to 2016 and Jeb Bush s candidacy in a crowded Republican presidential primary field: The pundits hailed Jeb has the front-runner, polling showed he was the candidate to beat, and the establishment wing of the party threw their support his way both financially and physically. He had high name recognition and a huge war chest, leading many operatives to believe he would be the candidate on the ballot in the general election. Yet his campaign imploded after disappointing finishes in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. While the losses in Iowa and New Hampshire dealt his campaign a blow, his team still believed they had built a firewall in South Carolina. When he finished in a shocking fourth place, they knew it was time to end his campaign. There is one notable difference between the two campaigns though: fundraising. Jeb s campaign and his affiliated super PAC had one of the largest political war chests in the field, and still his campaign fizzled out quickly. While the first quarter fundraising reports for 2020 are not public yet, we do know that Biden had his highest fundraising quarter in the fourth quarter of 2019 ahead of the early state contests, raising $22.7 million. Despite this record, he still trails behind rivals Sanders ($34.5 million) and Buttigieg ($24.7 million). This should be a warning sign for his campaign to step up the fundraising efforts if they plan to win South Carolina and are hinging his candidacy on a first-place finish there. With Nevada s caucus in the rearview mirror, Biden has a lot of work to do ahead of the South Carolina primary. Nevada was the first early state contest to boast a more diverse electorate, and Sanders encroached upon Biden s once significant lead among non-white voters, according to new Washington Post-ABC News polling. In South Carolina, Biden holds a holds a slight lead over Sanders — but the gap is tightening as the primary approaches. Most concerning is the firewall Biden says he has built is hinged on minority support. The Biden campaign has boasted about his support among minority communities throughout his bid, specifically African American voters. And while he does still hold a lead among non-white voters, that support dropped significantly from 51% in January to 32% in February, according to a new ABC News/Washington Post poll. If Biden is unable to pull off a first-place finish in South Carolina and if Buttigieg or Klobuchar finish above him, he should consider pulling the plug ahead of the Super Tuesday contests. Him staying in the race is splitting the moderate and independent vote between three candidates, which will only hurt the party as it fails to quickly coalesce around one centrist candidate. What s more, Biden s entire campaign strategy has been focused on a general election candidacy, playing to the centrist and independent voter bloc. This strategy appears to be failing, given the split in that critical vote. It would be time for Biden to step aside to prevent another four years of a Trump presidency. I got on the Biden train very early on — January 2019 to be precise — as a disaffected Republican who is now a registered independent. I believed that his high name recognition, ability to speak to a bipartisan audience, and his centrist platform could make him a viable candidate among moderate, independent and disaffected Republican voters. I still believe that Joe Biden would be the best candidate to run against Trump in a general election, but it s time to realize that the momentum for his candidacy just isn t there. For Democrats to beat Trump, they cannot nominate a self-proclaimed socialist such as Bernie Sanders, who doesn t have the ability to transcend partisan politics and win in critical battleground states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan where Democrats lost to Trump in 2016. Biden knows this and it is why he continues to stay in the race. However, the rise of Klobuchar and Buttigieg must be giving him some heartburn due to their ability to reach the same type of voters — even though it can be argued their general election viability (against Trump) isn t as strong as Biden s. Biden is currently trying to portray himself as the next "comeback kid" on the campaign trail, invoking Bill Clinton, who lost both Iowa and New Hampshire and then went on to win the presidency in 1992. Will that narrative be enough to breathe life back into his campaign? Sometimes the candidate can have all the right things — staff, resources, campaign framework, name recognition and likeability — and still not be the right candidate for the moment. That s something that Biden may have to come to terms with if he doesn t win in South Carolina.
It s not often this gets said: Move over, Celine Dion. Only in an election year would the best show in Vegas be a Democratic presidential debate. But this was no Cirque du Soleil -- more like Future Stars of Wrestling. Elizabeth Warren -- and pretty much everyone else -- aggressively went after an apparently flummoxed Michael Bloomberg, making his much-anticipated debut Wednesday -- just a few days before the Nevada caucuses. The candidates also came hard at each other this time, on a night of fireworks and faceplants; several CNN commentators described it as a "free-for-all" -- and they were not wrong. But with the eyes of much of the nation on him, and his self-funded star on the rise, it was billionaire Bloomberg, who was the target of choice for his fellow candidates. The nearly unanimous verdict on his performance from a diverse panel of CNN Opinion commentators? "It was a horrible night." Or, in the words of David Axelrod, a "disastrous debut." Some, like SE Cupp, were at least relieved that at last the gloves were off. "Well it s about time," Cupp wrote. "It took, evidently, Michael Bloomberg on the debate stage for Democrats to realize that this primary can t be a group effort and a love fest forever." Scott Jennings didn t mince words: "Finally, this debate has revealed what I thought was probably true -- these Democrats running for president really seemed to hate each other." Errol Louis assessed a winning strategy in Warren s pugnacity and preparation; likewise, Patti Solis Doyle saw a "thrilling tactical moment" when Warren "gutted Bloomberg on his non-disclosure agreements in cases of alleged sexual harassment." Tara Setmayer thought much of the anti-Bloomberg energy was misplaced -- suggesting Sanders, as an emerging frontrunner, deserved the target on his back, if the Democrats really want a candidate who can win against President Donald Trump. Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg sniped at one another over experience and drew mixed reviews. "What more could President Donald Trump ask for" than a divided opposition, Frida Ghitis wondered. Debate coach Todd Graham delivered a rather stern report card: no one got an A, but Sanders drew the highest grade (B+) He "handled himself well when placed center stage," Graham wrote, and shone when talking about policy in moral terms. Don t miss these insights from Nevada writers: The intelligence world was in chaos this week after Trump s decision to appoint US Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell as acting director of national intelligence. A staunch loyalist with no intelligence background and a reputation for alienating people, wrote David Andelman -- Grenell replaces outgoing acting director Joseph Maguire. Andelman called Grenell a "catastrophe-in-waiting" unqualified to hold a post so central to America s national security, and implored Trump to reconsider. "Most alarming" were reports that Trump s dissatisfaction with Maguire -- who had briefed a bipartisan committee in Congress that Russia was back at its election interference efforts -- contributed to his departure and Grenell s appointment, Andelman wrote. Admiral William McRaven spoke out strongly on Maguire s behalf in the Washington Post, praising his long experience and record of service and concluding that Maguire "was dismissed for doing his job." He warned: "As Americans, we should be frightened -- deeply afraid for the future of the nation. When good men and women can t speak the truth, when facts are inconvenient, when integrity and character no longer matter, when presidential ego and self-preservation are more important than national security -- then there is nothing left to stop the triumph of evil." Bloomberg faces other uphill battles as both a primary candidate and a prospective Democratic nominee. Arick Wierson, who was Bloomberg s media advisor when he was New York s mayor, sketched out suggestions for next steps, and noted that his abysmal debate showing has raised the stakes for Bloomberg in the South Carolina debate. As the controversy over sexual harassment, toxic workplace culture and non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) grew louder, Kate Andersen Brower wrote that these issues were part of why Bloomberg didn t make the cut as a VP prospect for Barack Obama in 2008. Brower noted that in 2020, if Bloomberg faces Trump, voters would have the right to ask: "Can t (we) do better than two billionaires who are accused of demeaning women?" On Friday, Bloomberg said women covered by three NDAs who had made complaints against him can be released from those agreements if they contact his company. David Love urged Democrats to think twice before casting their lot during the primary with an oligarch of their own; for Love, a potential choice between the moderate Bloomberg and the progressive Sanders posed a moral dilemma for democracy. In his view, "It s not a stretch to say that when it comes to the role of wealth in determining the elections, the contrast between Bloomberg and Bernie Sanders is one with moral stakes." The Revs. William Barber and Liz Theoharis, co-chairs of the Poor People s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, also offered moral arguments this week, but not on behalf of a particular candidate. Both parties need to give more attention to the 23 million poor and low-income voters in America, they wrote. "They and other poor Americans rarely hear a politician call their name and speak to their conditions. In the more than 20 debates leading up to the 2016 elections, there was not a single hour dedicated to poverty or economic insecurity." Don t miss these smart takes on CNN s town halls with candidates this week: On Thursday, all eyes were on Judge Amy Berman Jackson s courtroom, where longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone faced sentencing after being convicted of crimes including lying, obstruction and witness tampering. Prosecutors had recommended seven to nine years. Then Trump tweeted and Attorney General William Barr intervened, undercutting his own prosecutors to suggest a lighter sentence. James Schultz, formerly of the Trump White House counsel s office, insisted that Barr had done the right thing inserting himself into the process. "The reality is the sentencing recommendation of seven to nine years for Stone was a ridiculous overreach," he wrote. Michael Zeldin noted that: "Trump s encroachment into DOJ territory, especially in such a public way, was unprecedented." "Indeed," argued Frida Ghitis, "Stone s sentencing turned into a microcosm of the battle to save the rule of law in this country ... On Thursday, in Judge Jackson s courtroom, the rule of law fought back." In sentencing Stone to over three years in federal prison, Michael D Antonio observed, Jackson "demonstrated genuine fairness ... Now it will be up to the President to either honor the decision or commute the sentence of his friend and show that it is he -- and not the system -- that is corrupt." Trump s rush of surprise pardons and commutations this week read like a casting call for Lifestyles of the Rich, Famous and Felonious: Among others, former San Francisco 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. (failing to report a felony in a bribery case), once-junk bond king Michael Milken (racketeering and securities fraud), Rudy Giuliani s ex-New York City police commissioner Bernard Kerik (tax fraud and lying to the federal government). And then there was an actual former "Celebrity Apprentice," disgraced ex-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (public corruption). After Tuesday s spate of high-profile pardons, Paul Callan marveled, "there s reason to wonder if the role (of acting pardon attorney of the US) should be offered to Geraldo Rivera -- or Kim Kardashian West. When President Barack Obama pardoned 78 people in December 2016, the White House announcement simply listed those given pardons and commuted sentences, along with details of their offenses. But when Trump used his powers to give clemency to 11 people, the press secretary s statement was larded with the often-famous names of those vouching for the pardoned," implying that Trump s mercy favors those with special connections. "In also showing mercy late last year to two officers accused of war crimes, one convicted of murder, President Trump again dismissed the justice system" -- both civilian and military, asserted LZ Granderson. "What we have been witnessing recently is not in the spirit of the Constitution s Article II, Section 2, but in the spirit of authoritarianism. For it is one thing for a president to commute a sentence if she or he feels the individual has paid their debt to society, but it s totally another if the president intervenes with the belief there wasn t a debt to begin with." What does it mean to be redeemed? James A. Gagliano -- lifelong lover of the NFL s Atlanta Falcons, a team lit up (and then laid low) by legendary quarterback Michael Vick -- made the case directly to Trump that Vick, who was sentenced to 23 months on dog-fighting charges in 2007, should be pardoned. Gagliano recalls Vick s post-prison rehabilitation efforts on and off the field and his emotional welcome back to the Georgia Dome to be recognized as one of the best Falcons players of all time. "Vick s tale is one of against-long-odds achievement, meteoric ascension to the pinnacle of his profession and losing it all," reflected Gagliano. "It is also a story of forgiveness, second acts and deserved redemption ... Michael Vick made good on his second chance. He s back working in football as a television analyst. He s a family man. He has acknowledged his failures and atoned for them. He has blamed no one else but himself ... here s hoping you ll give this pardon request some serious consideration, Mr. President." On Thursday, the New York Times published an op-ed by Sirajuddin Haqqani, identifying him only as the "deputy leader of the Taliban," in which he argued: "I am convinced that the killing and the maiming must stop." Peter Bergen, who has covered Afghanistan for CNN for over 20 years, was shocked by what the Times didn t say about Haqqani -- that the FBI considers him a "specially designated global terrorist" and that both the FBI and State Department are offering a reward for information leading to his capture. Haqqani leads a network whose members have kidnapped multiple Americans, including a Times reporter, noted Bergen, who opined: "President Trump sees himself as elected to get out of America s endless wars. But there is a big difference between fighting an endless war and instituting a persistent presence in Afghanistan to safeguard both American interests and those of the Afghan people ... Haqqani s tepid assurances in the Times that the Taliban, going forward, will be just a normal bunch of Afghan politicians don t mesh well with the FBI s continued assessment that he is one of the world s most wanted terrorists." The Times said in a statement from a spokesperson: "We know firsthand how dangerous and destructive the Taliban is. The Times is one of the only American news organizations to have maintained a full time team of reporters in Afghanistan since the start of the war nearly 20 years ago. We ve also had multiple journalists kidnapped by the organization. But, our mission at Times Opinion is to tackle big ideas from a range of newsworthy viewpoints. We ve actively solicited voices from all sides of the Afghanistan conflict, the government, the Taliban and from citizens. Sirajuddin Haqqani is the second in command of the Taliban at a time when its negotiators are hammering out an agreement with American officials in Doha that could result in American troops leaving Afghanistan. That makes his perspective relevant at this particular moment." US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States will sign a peace deal with the Taliban on February 29 provided there is a weeklong reduction in violence in Afghanistan, slated to begin Saturday. Don t miss -- Raul Reyes: Trump s cruel siege of sanctuary cities is an empty show -- Julian Zelizer: Republicans in 1980 were just as divided as Democrats today. Here s how they came together and won -- Thomas Foster: A museum of women s history is long overdue -- and so are many others -- Lance Gould: Cheating makes the Astros, for better or worse, America s team -- Kate Williams: The truth about Wallis Simpson, the woman accused of stealing a king AND... Jane Austen s most annoying heroine steals the screen We can all admit it: Emma Woodhouse is for many Jane Austen s most irritating leading lady -- even her creator thought so. But director Autumn de Wilde s new film, "Emma," starring Anya Taylor-Joy in the title role, made a convert out of an initially reluctant Holly Thomas. She praised the film s ability to break out of staid tropes of the Austen adaptation canon in favor of a fresher take on feminism, romance and well ... men: "The purest cliche of an Austen fan, I have tended to give the over-examined Elizabeth Bennet of Pride and Prejudice, or the long-suffering Elinor Dashwood (the Sense half of Sense and Sensibility ) more credit ... But the most recent Emma flagged something lacking in those characters ... It s just refreshing to see a woman born out of classic literature whose flaws mean that she sidesteps several romantic cliches ...Taylor-Joy might wear Empire line dresses, but she doesn t dab away delicate Regency tears. She sobs gutted, 21st century ones." Forget about Colin Firth s Mr. Darcy and his rumpled white shirt by the lake, Thomas urged us, and consider Johnny Flynn s Mr. Knightly, who is kind even as he explains to Emma how ridiculous she is: "In the real world, a young woman is far more likely to debate a friendly mansplainer than win over an aloof-but-secretly-decent aristocrat. Mr. Darcy has a lot to answer for in terms of expectation management of straight, single women who meet apparently indifferent men. Men like Mr. Knightly, who demonstrate excellent morals and an inability not to speak the truth from the outset, are a far better bet than ones who, in all likelihood, are not hiding a wealth of martyrdom behind their brush-offs." That s wise advice for your week ahead.
US President Donald Trump delivered his third State of the Union Address 5 February, in which he praised the might, glory and economic prosperity of the United States. A few days later, across the Atlantic, the Munich Security Conference opened its 56th Annual Conference, with no less than 35 heads of states and governments, in addition to foreign ministers, ministers of defence and senior officials from across the world, in attendance. The state of the West was the major theme. However, Middle Eastern questions took centre stage. For the last one hundred years, or more, the Middle East has been one of the major battlegrounds for the great powers. It still is. Developments in northern Syria were a major discussion point, insofar as they touch on the Russian role in the Levant and in the larger region. Meanwhile, the ongoing confrontation between the United States and Iran was looming as each country tried to gain support and rally allies behind their respective positions. Last but not least, how the international community will deal with the complex security environment in North Africa, in light of the standstill in the Libyan conflict, was another flash point at the Munich Conference. The conclusions of the conference this year were not as rosy as the overly-optimistic picture President Trump depicted in his State of the Union address. Does the State of the Region differ from one year ago? Will it be different one year hence? If we take the situation in Syria as a starting point, the main parties have remained locked in their respective positions, save the Syrian government, supported by Russia, that has been gaining ground in face of fierce resistance from Turkey and Turkish-backed armed groups, some of which are included on the United Nations list of terrorist organisations. The steady advances of the Syrian Army in northwest Syria has put a serious strain on Russian-Turkish cooperation in Syria — a development that was quickly seized upon by the United States. The US State Department sent Ambassador James Jeffrey to confer with Turkish officials in a sign of solidarity with Turkey. Even though Turkish-Russian relations are being tested as never before in the last few years, still the two countries have strategic interests in common, at least in the medium term. That was proven when the Turkish foreign minister, after his meeting with his Russian counterpart last Saturday in Munich, said that differences between the two governments on one issue does not mean that the two would sacrifice their larger strategic cooperation in other important areas. He stressed that Turkey will not change its mind on installing Russian S-400 air defence systems. The next few weeks will be a litmus test of how resilient Turkish-Russian relations will prove to be. In Libya, these relations are being tested again. The two governments are supporting two opposing warring camps. Russia is providing political and material support to Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, whereas Turkey has deployed military advisers in Tripoli to shore up the besieged internationally-recognised government of Fayez Al-Sarraj. Last week, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution calling for a permanent ceasefire in Libya. But Haftar said that he is not going to abide by this resolution, and he would keep on attempting to enter Tripoli, and this regardless of international warnings that this would lead to a bloodbath. Furthermore, even if he succeeds in taking control of the capital city, there is no way he would be able to keep control over Tripoli in face of the forces that would challenge him. In the Gulf, the US-Iran standoff does not look like it is going to end anytime soon. At the Munich Security Conference, the Iranian foreign minister opened a window of opportunity, however limited, by emphasising that his government would be willing to roll back its decisions to increase uranium enrichment beyond the limits set by the Iranian nuclear accord of July 2015, if the E-3 — referring to the three European powers that are parties to the nuclear deal with Iran (Great Britain, France and Germany) — would honour their economic commitments towards Iran, as stipulated in the nuclear accord. Needless to say, these three European powers face a quandary on how to keep Iran in the accord by providing it with some economic incentives, and trying to square this with the American “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran. This dilemma will remain unresolved until the Trump administration and Iran reach a compromise through third-party mediation. The Omanis seem to be working on a formula that would satisfy the minimum requirements of both without the Iranians losing face. Last week, the Omani minister of state for external affairs met with the Iranian foreign minister in Munich, in their second meeting in the last few weeks. In a year of presidential elections in the United States, President Trump needs a foreign policy success, and getting Iran to compromise would be considered as one. That could be possible if the Iranians reach the conclusion that President Trump has a strong chance of being re-elected. If not, they would prefer to wait for a new US administration. Regional and Arab powers, including Egypt, have been entangled in a regional stand-off without clear signs that the raging conflict could be settled politically. The entrenched pattern of alliances that has existed for the last 10 years has failed to find the grand political bargain that could put the region on a more constructive and peaceful path. Nothing on the horizon seems to indicate that this status quo will change soon. On the other hand, the regional power that has gained from the status quo has been Israel. The Trump administration, that has failed to come up with policies that favour the long-term interests of peace and security in the Middle East, has copied the textbook of the Israeli extreme right as to the future of the West Bank and the ultimate geographic borders of the Jewish state. The US “Peace Plan” that was announced 28 January at the White House is the biggest strategic prize that Israel has ever received from any great power — even from past US administrations. The State of the Region will, probably, be on hold, with tactical gains here and there for entangled parties on the regional chessboard, at least until the swearing-in of the new American president.
Please, Mr. President, re-think this one. Richard Grenell, as close a friend and ally as he might be, is very much the wrong man at the wrong time as acting Director of National Intelligence. He is a catastrophe-in-waiting who will be in a position he is totally unqualified to hold, one that is central to America s national security. True, Ambassador Grenell has demonstrated in his years as Ambassador to Germany a clear ability and willingness to defend and promote the Trump agenda. But the role of the DNI, as defined by the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Protection Act of 2004 that created the position, requires this individual to "establish objectives and priorities for the intelligence community and manage and direct tasking of collection, analysis, production, and dissemination of national intelligence." Indeed, the DNI s office is specifically mandated to be situated outside not only the offices of any of the 17 disparate intelligence agencies it oversees but even specifies that it "shall not be located in the Executive Office of the President." There are good reasons for this and that have motivated the choice for the office by every president since it was created in the wake of 9/11—widely seen as a byproduct of the toxic lack of coordination between intelligence agencies. The DNI must be seen as a neutral arbiter among America s vast intelligence community that ranges from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and National Security Agency (NSA) to the FBI, DEA and intelligence units of the Departments of State, Energy, Homeland Security and Treasury. The skill set required for the job is also quite clear. He or she must be a mediator, bringing often-conflicting people and ideas together to reach a consensus or at least a viable menu of choices for the president s final decision on life-or-death matters. But above all, this individual must be deeply conversant with the arcane language and practices, sources and methods that make up the core mission of the intelligence communities. Some DNIs have come from the community itself. The most recent and effective, Dan Coats, served for years as a leading member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the Senate Armed Services Committee. Rick Grenell brings none of this to the table. Trained largely as a spokesman and advocate, from his first arrival in Germany as ambassador Grenell managed to alienate much of the nation where he was designated as the leading American representative. Two days after his arrival, Grenell, with no diplomatic or managerial background, tweeted to his new hosts: "As @realDonaldTrump said, US sanctions will target critical sectors of Iran s economy. German companies doing business in Iran should wind down operations immediately." This was only the launching point of a string of intemperate comments that were taken as public threats—an effort to burn rather than build bridges. Yet Germany is not only one of America s most valuable trading and security partners, it also is a most valuable intelligence ally as well—the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) has cooperated closely with the CIA for decades. Grenell spent considerable effort in Berlin warning that Germany s use of Huawei technology in 5G telecom networks would mean the "US won t be able to maintain the same level of cooperation with German security agencies." Grenell does have one key attribute for a DNI—the President s full and utter confidence. The problem is that he may very well be even more ignorant of intelligence matters than the man he will be advising. And, while the position is seen as determinedly non-partisan, Grenell is very much a polarizing figure, which no doubt is one attribute that appeals especially to the President. Coupled with a long history of nastiness and misogyny that nearly torpedoed his Senate confirmation as ambassador to Germany, his is a resume that bodes ill for this most sensitive of administration positions. The DNI is supposed to present to the president the best and most objective analysis of the world each day and options, especially in moments of crisis, for presidential action. It is the National Intelligence Council, over which the DNI presides, that is responsible for the PDB — the President s Daily Brief -- which, as its job description states, "organizes the Intelligence Community daily intelligence reporting to the President." In 1965, I was offered a job (which I ultimately declined) on the recently-formed PDB desk, then located at the CIA. At the time, I was a young college journalist and my background was what they were seeking— an ability to report objectively and accurately on the news (often highly classified) for a single key reader, the president. There is nothing in Grenell s background that suggests any sense or understanding of the nature or value of objectivity. My overwhelming concern goes even more deeply to the heart of the inevitable crises that will ensue in any Trump presidency. When there is a menu of choices for any specific action, will Grenell reflexively skew his advice to the most extreme, or the most measured and reflective of the ultimate goal? This was the problem when Trump suddenly authorized the assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani. As The New York Times reported in January: "Some Pentagon officials were shocked that the president picked what they considered the most extreme option and some intelligence officials worried that the possible long-term ramifications were not adequately considered, particularly if action on Iraqi soil prompted Iraq to expel American forces." The function of the DNI should be to offer sober analysis deeply rooted in the vast trove of facts that our $60-billion-a-year intelligence machine can muster. Richard Grenell hardly seems to be the individual tailored to fill that role.
Mina M. Azer
An initiative to empower women was launched by the Ministry of Environment to clean and plant rooftop within the framework of the governorate s sustainable development plan. 400 job opportunities were enabled as women were trained to recycle and plant rooftops in cooperation with “Plant a tree organization along with the celebration of International Women s Day. One of the participants described the initiative