Developments are accelerating as July approaches with the looming prospect of Ethiopia acting on its threat to start filling its Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). Last week Ethiopia replied in a manner consistent with the mode the Ethiopian government has followed for years to the memorandum that Egypt had submitted to the UN Security Council on 1 May. Addis Ababa continues to insist on its right to act unilaterally and remains indifferent to legitimate Egyptian and Sudanese concerns regarding the dam s engineering specifications, environmental and economic impacts, and the safety precautions that need to be put into place to avert catastrophe for downstream nations at some point in the future. The Egyptian memorandum to the 15-member Security Council, elevating its cause to a higher international level, expresses Egypt s frustration with Ethiopia s persistent refusal to conclude an agreement with Egypt and Sudan after US-mediated negotiations in Washington broke down earlier this year. The UN must intervene constructively in this crisis that threatens the lives and wellbeing of the Sudanese and Egyptian people. Surely, the international organisation cannot sit on the sidelines and watch as Addis Ababa flouts international law and violates agreements that have been in operation for decades on the flimsy excuse that they were “concluded in the colonial era”. The Ethiopian strategy to counter Egyptian-Sudanese coordination over this existential question for Egypt is inspired by an urge to assert complete and sole control over the Blue Nile, the source of most of the water that reaches Egypt. The nature of this strategy is evidenced by Addis Ababa s refusal to apply one of the most important principles of the Convention on the Law of Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses: the need for a country planning to utilise a transboundary watercourse to notify others sharing this watercourse of its plans in advance. In the event that the other countries believe the plan could cause them harm, the law requires the concerned parties to conclude a mutually acceptable agreement. In 2011 Ethiopia laid the cornerstone of its GERD project and then kept to itself all the details concerning the engineering specifications, reservoir capacity and safety standards. Once information on the envisaged dam began to leak, it emerged that the project would be much larger than Ethiopia had led others to believe. It turned out that GERD would be high enough to create a 74 billion m3 reservoir, or five times the 14 billion m3 capacity that had been approved in all previous European and US studies. Then, in the findings of the first international technical committee that was formed to study the specifications and potential impacts of the dam, it turned out that the electricity generating capacity factor of the planned hydropower plant was less than 30 per cent. Addis Ababa had billed GERD as the powerhouse of East Africa, capable of generating more than 6,000 megawatts. In fact, according to the scientists, production could not exceed 2,000 MW, which led many to ask what Addis Ababa s real motives were for building a dam of such an oversized scale. The answer to this question is obvious. The dam is a means to control how much water flows to downstream countries under the pretext of the sovereign right to use domestic natural resources as Addis Ababa sees fit. It does not take international law experts to understand the antiquated and misleading nature of the Ethiopian argument. The Blue Nile is not a “domestic” resource but an international one shared by other countries along the same watercourse. These countries have rights upheld by international law, not least of which is the right to ensure that hydraulic projects planned by other countries will not cause them significant harm. This is why international law requires not just engineering studies at the envisioned construction site but also studies on the potential hydraulic, economic, social and environmental impacts on other countries in the same river basin. On the basis of such studies, appropriate measures can be taken in advance to safeguard the rights of all parties and mechanisms can be put in place to determine responsibility and exact compensation in the event harm of some sort does occur. This is why the UN Watercourses Convention underscores the principles of prior notification and mutual agreement that Ethiopia has been so stubbornly blind to as though determined to live by the law of the jungle, heedless of the needs of others. To round out its strategy, Ethiopia has persisted in its practices of deception and misinformation, and procrastination and evasiveness. For example, when faced with criticism of their unilateral actions, Ethiopian leaders protest, “we won t reduce the amount of water to Egypt by a single drop!” That is for public consumption. Behind the scenes, in the negotiating chambers and elsewhere, they adopt a different style altogether as they haggle over just how much water they can divert and in how short a time. Then they drag out negotiations across endless rounds and stretch out the intervals between one round and the next in order to buy time until they present Egypt and Sudan with the next provocation or fait accompli. It is because of such practices that the international community as embodied in the UN and the Security Council must step in quickly to resolve this crisis before it spirals out of control. Egypt will not gamble with the lives of the Egyptian people.
Did al Qaeda strike a blow to the United States at the end of last year? FBI Director Christopher Wray told a press conference on Monday that Mohammed Alshamrani, a member of the Royal Saudi Air Force who killed three US sailors at the Pensacola Naval Air Station last December, was a terrorist associated with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, an al Qaeda affiliate based in Yemen. This means that the FBI may have determined that, unlike other recent acts of terrorism perpetrated by self-radicalized domestic terrorists, the Pensacola attack may be the first time since 9/11 that a foreign terrorist organization was able to strike successfully in the United States. (Though, as CNN noted, the officials "stopped short of saying that Alshamrani had been directed by the terror group.") It is also a reminder that the Trump administration s travel ban, which primarily targets Muslim-majority countries, is likely not the shield the president says it is. Saudi citizens like Alshamrani are not subject to the ban and the Trump administration continues to enjoy warm relations with the Saudi royal family. AQAP had claimed responsibility for the Pensacola attack in February, but such boasts are not always genuine. Wray said evidence gathered from Alshamrani s two iPhones showed that he had been coordinating "planning and tactics" with AQAP. Wray and Attorney General William Barr, who also spoke at Monday s press conference, had harsh words for Apple, which manufactured Alshamrani s phones, saying that the company had not helped to unlock them. Barr said it was only the FBI s own computer experts who were able to find the encrypted information that tied Alshamrani to AQAP. Apple said in January that it had already helped the FBI by giving it access to the data from Alshamrani two phones that was stored in cloud storage, but that it was unable to help with the encryption on the devices that was essential to protect its customers from hackers and criminals. No doubt Alshamrani s case will be cited often in the future by the FBI and Department of Justice to argue that they need to be able to break into encrypted phones when they have a lawful search warrant, as they did in Alshamrani s case. And Apple will continue to assert that the encryption they place on the phone is a necessary part of their business model to assure their consumers that their data is safe and that installing any kind of "back door" on their phones could be exploited by all sorts of bad actors. In a 2016 letter to customers, Apple said that the issue was so important that even Apple can t unlock its own phones saying, "We have even put that data out of our own reach, because we believe the contents of your iPhone are none of our business." The letter from Apple was issued after the FBI said Apple had to bypass the encryption on one of their iPhones after two ISIS-inspired terrorists killed 14 people in San Bernardino, California, in 2015. Despite a court order, Apple refused to hack into the terrorists phone, and eventually the FBI found a technical solution on its own. Aside from highlighting the ineffectualness of the administration s travel ban, the Pensacola attack is also a reminder that although al Qaeda and its affiliates have been greatly damaged by US drone strikes and other counterterrorism measures, they still remain focused on attacking American targets and very occasionally they may succeed.
When President Donald Trump fired State Department Inspector General Steve Linick late Friday night, he continued an audacious campaign to exact revenge on the very people centrally charged with ensuring government accountability. It was yet another Friday night massacre, aimed at punishing government watchdogs and distracting from their recent findings of potential waste, fraud, and abuse by the Trump administration. And the firing of Linick might have been something even more pernicious: criminal obstruction of justice. Congressional Democrats and at least one Republican (Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa) alike have declared that they will demand more answers than the administration has given so far. That s important -- but it s also not enough. The Justice Department must get off the sidelines and do its job, regardless of whose political interests might be damaged. One federal obstruction of justice statute criminalizes efforts to "influence, obstruct, or impede the due and proper administration of the law," including proceedings within any federal department or agency. So if, for example, a person intentionally misleads investigators on a specific question, or hides a certain piece of evidence, or tries to get a witness to lie on a particular point, then the statute applies. Logically (and legally), if it s obstruction to tinker with one piece of an agency investigation, then it s certainly obstruction to demolish the whole thing. Linick s firing comes after he reportedly had begun an investigation of possible wrongdoing by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, specifically focused on alleged improper use of a State Department employee to perform personal tasks for Pompeo and his wife. Details are sparse: Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel revealed the investigation in his statement denouncing the firing, but did not provide any further information. Requests for comment from the State Department regarding the investigation revealed by Engel were not returned Friday evening and Sarah Breen, the State Department s Office of Inspector General director of communications, told CNN in an email, "We cannot confirm or deny the existence of any specific investigation." But if the allegation is true, such abuse could itself be a crime under a federal law prohibiting theft or conversion (wrongful taking) of any thing of value of a federal agency. Just as it would be a crime (for example) to steal an official State Department vehicle, it also is a crime to use a salaried State Department official to conduct unauthorized personal errands while on the federal clock. To put a rough hypothetical monetary value on it, using a State Department employee who makes an $80,000 salary to spend one day per week doing unauthorized personal errands is akin to stealing $16,000 per year from the federal government. The Justice Department has no excuse to do nothing here. Potential federal crimes -- obstruction of justice and theft of government property alike -- jump off the page. IGs cannot bring criminal charges on their own but they can and do refer cases to the Justice Department for potential prosecution -- so frequently that the Justice Department s manual has a whole section on how to handle such referrals. Although longstanding Justice Department policy counsels against indicting a sitting president, the inquiry into the action against Linick shouldn t end there. Anybody who urged or counseled Trump to fire Linick could face exposure for obstruction, if they acted with intent to scuttle the investigation of Pompeo. The questions, then, are whether someone indeed made a request to fire Linick, and why Trump wrote to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that he no longer had the fullest confidence in the IG? But I have no faith that the Justice Department will do its job. Attorney General William Barr already has made clear that he is about politics -- specifically guarding the flank of Trump and his top officials -- before prosecution. And, while senators from both parties quickly raised a clamor and called for accountability after Linick s firing, the Justice Department has given zero indication of any interest, never mind action. Such strategic passivity would merely continue a disturbing trend under Barr s leadership. First the Justice Department inexcusably sat out the entire Ukraine investigation that led to Trump s impeachment, never so much as raising an initial inquiry over potential crimes (by Trump and others) including bribery, extortion, and solicitation of foreign election interference. Continued inaction by the Justice Department now, as Trump serially dispatches IGs and cripples any effort to hold his administration accountable, would be as unsurprising as it is destructive. Once again, the Justice Department has neon flashing signs of corruption laid out before it. We ll see if Barr does anything about it. I m not holding my breath. Now, your questions: Matthew (North Carolina): Does the fact that the FBI got a search warrant for Senator Burr s property mean he is likely to be charged with a crime? Not necessarily, but overall the news -- the Los Angeles Times reported that federal agents executed a search warrant on Burr s home and obtained his cellphone and other property -- is not good for Burr, who sold up to $1.7 million in stock in February after he received closed-door Senate briefings about the coronavirus shortly before the market spiraled downward. (Burr has denied any wrongdoing -- saying he made the trades based solely on public information, not information he received from the committee -- and he asked the Senate Ethics Committee to review the sales after they were made public.) To get a search warrant, a prosecutor must demonstrate (and a federal judge must agree) that there is probable cause to believe that 1) a crime was committed and 2) there will be evidence of those crimes in the location to be searched. Probable cause is not a particularly high burden of proof -- it is lower than the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard necessary to convict a defendant at trial -- but it requires a prosecutor to articulate with specificity, and backed by evidence, why it is likely that a crime was committed. In many but not all cases I handled as a prosecutor, a search warrant would be followed by a criminal charge and arrest. Usually, once a prosecutor has enough proof to establish probable cause, it is not a far leap to get to a criminal charge. But there also were instances where I would obtain a search warrant and the proof would come up shy of what was necessary and appropriate for a charge. Bottom line: the search warrant indicates that it is a very realistic possibility, though far from certain, that Burr will be charged. (Burr has denied any wrongdoing, saying he made the trades based solely on public information and has asked the Senate Ethics Committee to review the sales after they were made public.) Sam (Iowa): Should Supreme Court Justices that were appointed by President Trump recuse themselves from ruling on cases that directly involve him? The two Trump-appointed Justices, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, certainly can choose to recuse themselves from any case directly involving the President, but no law or precedent requires them do so. Supreme Court justices -- unlike all other federal judges -- are not subject to a specific code of ethics, so they can do whatever they choose in cases presenting potential conflicts of interest. But generally, justices need not recuse from a case merely because it involves the same President who nominated him or her. The 1974 United States v. Richard Nixon case provides historical precedent. The Court ruled 8-0 against Nixon, requiring him to turn over the White House tapes (Nixon resigned weeks later). Three of the Justices on the case were appointed by Nixon: Warren Burger, Harry Blackmun and Lewis Powell. A fourth Nixon-appointed Justice, William Rehnquist, did recuse himself -- not because he had been appointed by Nixon but because he had worked in the Nixon administration s Justice Department. And in the 1997 Clinton v. Jones case, the Court ruled unanimously against President Bill Clinton, allowing Paula Jones s civil lawsuit against him to proceed. Both Clinton-nominated Justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer, stayed on the case (and ruled against Clinton). William (California): Given the current coronavirus pandemic, has the Trump administration changed its legal position seeking to strike down the entire Affordable Care Act? The Trump administration considered but decided against modifying its position. The Supreme Court has granted "certiorari" -- meaning it has decided to review -- a challenge to the Affordable Care Act (sometimes called "Obamacare") in its next term, which starts in October 2020. We almost certainly will not get a final ruling from the Court before the presidential election on November 3, 2020, but the case could become a key part of the political landscape during the campaign. The Supreme Court upheld the ACA in 2012 and again in 2015. The Court relied on the individual mandate, which imposes a financial penalty for people who do not carry insurance, as a lawful exercise of the government s taxation power. After Congress in 2017 changed the penalty to zero, however, Texas and a group of other Republican-led states challenged the ACA again. The Trump administration joined the lawsuit, seeking to strike down the entire ACA. But Barr reportedly urged Trump to modify his position -- seeking to strike down only the individual mandate but not the entire ACA -- in light of the Coronavirus pandemic. Trump, however, rejected that advice, and the administration has stuck to its position that not only the individual mandate but the entire ACA is unconstitutional and should be invalidated.
Water storage dams that provide water to satisfy the different uses such as agriculture, industry, drinking, tourism, etc. are usually designed based on three main capacities. The first is the dead storageallocated for trappingsediments, the second is the live storage used to store water during flood seasons and rainy years in order to be utilized throughout the year and during dry periods, the third is for the high flood protection storage that protects the people from potentialrisks and protect the dam from collapse. Taking Aswan High Dam as an example, the dead storage is in the range of 30 billion cubic meters, the live storage is 90 billion cubic meters, and the flood protection storage is estimatedat 40 billion cubic meters. Therefore, all the water discharge outlets are situated above the dead storage. It is worth noting that Aswan High Dam Operation Protocol stipulates that before the start of the annualflood season specifically on the first of August each year, the water level in Lake Nasser shall not exceed the live storage maximum level in order to provide sufficient capacity to face any new flood. With regard to hydroelectric dams, the amount of generated electricity is directly proportional to the amount of water discharged from the turbine s tunnels (Water Discharge), and to the depth of the water stored above the turbine level (Water head). Therefore, these dams aim to maintain the highest water storage level to be able togenerate the maximum amount of electricity, and sometimes a portion of the flood protection storage is used to increase the amount of storedwater in order to increase power generation. The Cameroonian Dam (Lagdo Dam), which is located in West Africa near the Nigerian border, is an example of the violations that may occur during the filling and operationofhydropower damwith the aim to optimize the hydropower production. In 2012, Cameroon had witnessed heavy and intensive rainfall that caused high floods in the Niger River where this dam is located. The officials in charge of the Lagdo dam operation opened its gates in orderto ensure itssafetyandreleasedthe stored water to be able toaccommodate the new flood. Unfortunately, the released water was drained quickly towards neighbouring Nigeria causing flash floods, killing 431 Nigerians, destroying more than 150,000 hectares of agricultural land, and migrating 1.3 million Nigerians.This situation was repeated this year during the current month, as the dam region in Cameroon was subjected to intensiveand prolonged rainfall, so the dam authority discharged large amount of the dam storage to accommodate this year s floods, which cause huge damageinlarge areas of agricultural land downstream the dam in Nigeria. Another example from the east of Africa is Owen falls dam located near Victoria Lake s outlet in Uganda. Due to intensive and prolonged rainfall this year, in addition to the decision of the authority in charge of Owen Dam management to maintain high level in the lake to optimize energy production, the water level in Lake Victoria has overflowedand flooded the north of Uganda. Accordingly, Owen Dam management authority was forced to release huge amount of stored water causing devastating flooding inSouth Sudan that swept away its plains and villages. The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) has a capacity of 74 billion cubic meters, but there are not any available official data regarding the capacity of its dead storage, live storage and flood protection storage, noting that GERD is much larger than the Cameroonian Lagdo Dam. Moreover, GERD has 13 Francis turbines, generating 375 MW each. It is necessary for the safety of the dam to put in place a telemetric communication system that linksrainfall and flood monitoring stations and link them to the dam site using satellites systems. This information should be shared with the downstream countries to assist them in their water management as well asflood risk management. The hydrological data available for the Blue Nileindicates thatits maximum daily discharge during the flood period (July/August) is estimatedat 800 million cubic meters, its maximum monthly discharge is estimated at 24 billion cubic meters, and its maximum annual discharge in the range of 70 billion cubic meters. Whereas the average annual discharge of the Blue Nile is about 50 billion, therefore, the live storage in the dam should not be less than the average value of the annual flow, and the flood protection storage capacity should not be less than the maximum monthly discharge of the Blue Nile. The total capacity of GERD is 74billion cubic meters, which is sufficient to fulfil the live storage and flood protection storage requirements. However, it is obvious that there is no clear consideration regarding the dead storage capacity allocated to store sediments, the Blue Nile is known by its high erosion rates, and the huge quantities of sedimentation that the river carries annually to Sudan and Egypt. It is worth noting that Egypt has allocated 30 billion cubic meters of Aswan High Dam storage capacity to the dead storage to accommodate the quantities of sedimentsof the Blue Nile. The limited dead storage capacity of GERD may be due to Ethiopia s plans concerning the construction of other dams along the Blue Nile that will retain these sediments and generate hydropower. Once GERD is operational, the sedimentary materials will start to be accumulated upstream the dam occupying part of the dam s storage capacity. This part will increase annually causing a continual decrease of the live storage capacity, consequently the power production will be reduced, on the other hand it might affect the flood protection storage capacity, increasing the risks of floods in the near future in the region in general and in Sudan in particular. Concerning GERD construction progress, which has not completed yet, as it may take an additional year to complete the middle part of the dam,Ethiopia is trying to complete the implementation of the transmission line (Chinese funded), which will transfer the bulk of the dam s electricity to the Ethiopian territories. It is to note that Egypt will not import electricity from Ethiopia as a result of its hostile positions, while Sudan desires to buy from the generated electricity but it has not started yet the construction of thetransmission line that will transfer the generated electricity from the dam site to the Sudanese territories, which may require 3-4 years to be implemented. One of the basics in hydropower dams is that if one of the dam s turbines is notoperated, the tunnel or part of the tunnel designated for it will be closedaswater is not allowed to pass through it, otherwise the turbine will be damaged and destroyed.Therefore, the amount of water released from GERD at the beginning of operation will be limited, but in case the dam experiences high floods during this period, water will start to be accumulatedupstream the dam and the water level will rise until it begins to flow through the high flood emergency spillway at the top of the dam, threatening the safety of the dam asit will become like a large waterfall and the water flows through the spillway at an approximate height of 150 meters causing severe problems to Sudan. When Ethiopia completes the construction of its transmission line, followed by Sudan scompletionto its electrical transmission line from the dam site to its territories, and over the years, the sediments will start to be accumulatedupstream the dam affecting the flood protection storage capacity. If the water storage reaches 65 billion cubic meters in the beginning of August and the new flood season reaches 14 billion cubic meters, accordingly the dam will be filled and forced to discharge an amount of 500 million cubic meters per day downstream the river for a whole month. In case the dam is completely filled with water that starts to overflow through the emergency spillway, and if this flood lasts for a week or two, and the dam was completely unable to store one additional drop of water, then the Blue Nile region in the beloved Sudan will be drowned and water structures will collapse causing death and damage, and the terrified management of GERD will fear its collapse, therefore they will release the excess water until the discharge of the dam s water reaches more than one billion cubic meters per day. Some may wonder what is new for Sudan about the Blue Nile floods since itis already accustomed to it. Andwhy Sudan is the one threatened by therisks of the Blue Nile floods as a result of GERD construction while the opposite is supposed to happen? The truth is that before GERD Sudan used to unload its dams, but after GERD construction, and according to many studies, Sudan will not need to empty its dams before the flood season, hence Sudan can use these dams to increase its power generation capacity. Whereas, before GERD the problem was confined to the Blue Nile flood, but after the dam operation there will be a probability of error occurrencewhile managing the dam during floods (Release huge amounts water) as a dam safety measure, which may increase the risks for Sudan. Furthermore, the water of the Blue Nile will not be loaded with sediments, as was the case before GERD, which increases its speed and erosion threats to canals and other installations.
Recently, the global spreading of COVID-19 is accelerating. Bearing on huge cost and tremendous sacrifice，China has achieved preliminary success on the battle against COVID-19. Despite of domestic difficulties in production resumptions and serious risks of cases imported, China has begun to provide tons of medical supplies and send medical experts to other countries to fight the epidemic. This reflects China s commitment as a responsible great nation, and its goodwill of weathering through this crisis together with other countries. This is a vivid manifestation of the concept of building a "Community of Common Health for Mankind". While surprisingly, some western politicians and media have thrown such absurd remarks as “face mask diplomacy of China", intentionally defiling China s benevolence as a show for political gains. Although it is widely acknowledged that some western politicians and media have have long crossed the line of human conscience, it is still shocking to see such stigmatization of China s cooperation with rest of the world in fighting against COVID-19 when the pandemic is so severe and many lives are being lost every day. When COVID-19 was raging in China, many friendly countries did not hesitate to lend a helping hand and offered valuable support to China. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi wrote to Chinese President Xi Jinping and sent Dr. Hala Sayed, the Minister of Health and Population as his special envoy to visit China with a batch of face masks as the gift from Egyptian People. Many other countries provided assistance to China. Such timely help will always be remembered and cherished by the Chinese people. President Xi Jinping pointed out: "The Chinese nation is a grateful nation and always reciprocates others goodwill". Despite the severe pressure of epidemic rebound, China are supporting the global response to pandemic without any hesitation nor gain-or-loss calculation. Factories across the countries are operating day and night, providing medical supplies to the fighters in the battlefront of countries all over the world. According to Chinese customs statistics, from March 1 to April 30, China has send medical products to other countries amounting over 10 billion dollars, including 27.8 billion pieces of masks, 130 million pieces of protective suits, 73.41 million boxes of COVID-19 detection reagents, 12.57 million pieces of infrared thermometer, 491 hundred pieces of ventilators, 124 thousand units of patient monitors, 43.63 million pairs of goggles and 854 million pair of medical gloves. China has sent 19 medical expert groups to 17 countries, held more than 70 visual meetings with experts and officials from more than 150 countries and international organizations. China has donated US $ 50 million to WHO in two batches. China doubled its returns within capacity to the countries which has extended helping hand when China was suffering. What is more important is China is practicing the concept of Community of shared future and Community of common health for Mankind. Therefore, it is inevitable choice of China to fight against the epidemic hand in hand with other countries and fulfill its responsibility as a major country. Many medical supplies are provided as donations. It is well known that in providing foreign aid, China always attaches no political conditions to aids. In the disease relief aids, the Chinese government would first consider the severity of the epidemic in those countries and scarcity of medical resources, and to respond to concrete demands of the countries, and to our own capabilities, and then we define the aid programs together with the recipient country government through consultation. It should point out that when China was suffering from COVID-19, some politicians and media did not show sympathy and basic human conscience, but sitting on the sidelines, gloating and even adding insult to injury. When China reached out helping hand to other countries, those politicians and media begun to smear China desperately based on their dark psychological and selfish political interests. This crazy manipulation that confuses right with wrong and stigmatizes China s relations with the rest of the world is one of the strains of the "political virus" created by some politicians and media using pandemic to attack China. It will damage global cooperation in fighting the pandemic. All countries in the world must stand together to disinfect and eliminate such “political virus”. Despite the slanders and malice, China s determination and action to support the global fight against the pandemic will not change. China will spare no effort in providing substantial help and supply to the world. The Chinese government is donating 3 batches of medical supplies to our fraternal Egyptian friends, of which 2 batches are already arrived and put into use in the battle against COVID-19 in Egypt. At the same time, Chinese provincial and municipal governments, social organizations, and enterprises are also actively providing donations to Egypt, such as Xinjiang Autonomous Region Government, China Family Planning Association, Jack Ma Foundation, China Construction Group and etc. All these donations include more than 2 million face masks, 270,000 N95 masks, more than 130,000 copies of testing reagents, 100,000 sets of protective clothing, 40 ventilators, and many gloves, masks, goggles, forehead thermometer, etc. The Chinese Embassy in Cairo also donated masks and infrared temperature detectors to Egyptian government sectors and several universities. As people always say “The world has its own true feelings”, peoples of different countries are friendly and kind to each other. We firmly believe that as long as we have in mind that we are all one family with shared future and uphold the benevolence of commitment and justice, governments and peoples around the world will understand each other more and unite closely in the fight against the epidemic. Mankind will eventually defeat the disease together.
Earlier this month, Egypt wrote to the UN Security Council in relation to the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). Egypt s complaint itemised the unilateral actions Ethiopia has taken since first using the turmoil in Egypt that followed the January 2011 Revolution as cover to begin construction of the dam without notifying downstream nations. Despite Ethiopia s violations of the rules and conventions of international law and good neighbourliness, Egypt continued to exchange visits with Ethiopian leaders. Eventually they agreed to create an international technical panel consisting of two technical experts from Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia, and four leading international experts. The panel was tasked with evaluating Ethiopia s design and engineering studies and its studies on the dam s potential environmental and economic impacts on downstream nations. The panel completed its first report in May 2013. Several days before it was released Ethiopia began operations to divert the Blue Nile. The move sent the message that Ethiopia would continue with its construction of the dam despite the recommendations of the international panel. It set the tone for Ethiopia s behaviour from then on. On Monday, the Ethiopian irrigation minister said Ethiopia has “prepared a comprehensive document that provides sufficient response” to the complaint Egypt filed to the Security Council. The panel concluded that Ethiopia s feasibility and impact studies were not commensurate with a dam on such an enormous scale and had not adequately assessed the magnitude of the effects it would have on its neighbours. The panel called for more detailed engineering studies on the structural safety of the dam, and more studies of its potential impact on the environment, economies and water needs of downstream nations. After the panel s report was released, Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia met at the level of heads-of-state, foreign ministers, irrigation ministers and intelligence chiefs in order to select an international consultancy firm to undertake the recommended studies. Dozens of meetings were held over the course of two years, but Ethiopian evasiveness meant no conclusion was reached. In March 2015, Khartoum, Cairo and Addis Ababa signed a declaration of principles in an attempt to build trust. The declaration committed the three states to completing the recommended studies and then to use the findings to draw up a set of rules for the filling and operation of the dam in a manner that serves Ethiopia s development goals without harming downstream nations. Cairo, Addis Ababa and Khartoum continued to exchange visits at various levels in order to choose a consultancy firm, eventually settling on a French consultancy. Ethiopia rejected the French consultant s preliminary report detailing its methodology and timeframe, and acted to prevent the firm from completing the required studies. It then proposed the creation of an independent tripartite committee of scientific experts to agree on the rules for filling and operating the dam. The committee was formed, the technical disagreements continued, and Ethiopia continued to obstruct any agreement. By mid-2019 Egypt s patience was exhausted. It announced that negotiations had failed and invoked the 10th principle of the 2015 Agreement on the Declaration of Principles which states that if the three parties are unable to settle disputes through consultations or negotiations they may turn to a neutral international party for mediation. In November 2019 the three parties agreed to accept the mediation of the US, as represented by its Treasury Department, in collaboration with the World Bank. After several rounds of negotiations in Washington the participants were on the verge of signing a detailed draft agreement on the rules for filling and operating the dam. In a meeting at the end of February Egypt initialled the agreement but Ethiopia refused to attend the final session and sign the deal. It later claimed the draft agreement was an extension of colonial era Nile water agreements. Ethiopia then proposed the three countries should first agree on the rules for filling the GERD reservoir and then, at some later stage, meet again to negotiate rules for operating the dam. Khartoum and Cairo rejected the idea. Most recently, in late April, Addis Ababa announced that it would begin filling the GERD reservoir in July. In doing so it showed its determination to flout the agreement on the Declaration of Principles, the provisions of the UN Watercourses Convention and all principles of good neighbourliness with fellow Blue Nile Basin countries, Sudan and Egypt. Egypt already faces pressures on its water supply and cannot sustain any further threats. It has suspended many agricultural expansion projects that are needed to attain food security: the Salam Canal project in North Sinai, the Hammam Canal and Hammam Canal Extension projects in the northwest Delta, and the Toshka (New Valley) project in the south have all been placed on hold. At the same time, Egypt has been working at breakneck speed to open desalinisation and agricultural run-off water recycling plants. Any increase in Egypt s water deficit will have severe political, economic, and social repercussions. There is already a $10 billion gap in Egypt s domestic food supply. The water crisis in Egypt is an existential matter. At 500 m3 per capita, Egypt receives the lowest amount of water of all Nile Basin countries. Ethiopia receives 1,000 billion m3 of rainfall a year, securing its forests, pastureland and rainfall fed agriculture, and livestock and seasonal crop exports. Yet it is seeking to take a portion of Egypt s established annual Nile water quota of 55.5 billion m3, or five per cent of the rainfall Ethiopia receives. Egypt can no longer afford to indulge Ethiopia s games as it attempts to impose a fait accompli with GERD and build other dams on the Blue Nile and its tributaries. Ethiopia has form in behaving this way with other countries with which it shares watercourses: the Omo River with Kenya, the Juba River with Somalia, the Atbara River with Eritrea, and the Sobat with South Sudan, Sudan and Egypt. Egypt is also fully aware of the significant harm Ethiopia has inflicted on both Kenya and Somalia by unilaterally building dams on the rivers it shares with these countries but thinks of as its own. Egypt has exhausted all peaceful means to dissuade Ethiopia from its destructive behaviour. This is why we hope the complaint lodged with the UN Security Council will compel the international community to press Ethiopia to respect the principles of international law, and sign the draft Washington agreement that Egypt has already initialled. Addis Ababa has no convincing excuses not to sign. The draft agreement incorporates the suggestions submitted by all three parties. It was formulated by the mediating party, the US, as represented by the secretary of the treasury. It had the technical input of the World Bank, known for its expertise in international law on transboundary watercourses. Yet given Ethiopia s record, the international community will have to act firmly to defuse this crisis. It must compel Ethiopia to adopt a mode of behaviour that is more rational and cooperative, and less aggressive and provocative. Its failure to do so will seriously jeopardises regional peace and security. The writer is a former minister of water resources and irrigation and a professor of water resources at the Faculty of Engineering, Cairo University.
The battle against the coronavirus is currently dominating headlines and monopolising the time and resources of governments around the world. We, in Egypt, are no different. However, in addition to taking aggressive measures to contain COVID-19, Egypt is also contending with another matter that is equally urgent and that is potentially of greater consequence to long-term regional stability, which is the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). Ethiopia has almost completed the construction of the GERD, which will become Africa s largest hydropower dam. The danger that the GERD represents to water security in Egypt cannot be overstated. Egypt is, essentially, a desert oasis that depends entirely on the Nile as its sole source of life. Just check Google Earth – over 100 million Egyptians live in a densely populated and slender strip of green that snakes through an ocean of desert, which eventually opens up into the Nile Delta as it approaches the Mediterranean. With a water storage capacity of 74 billion cubic metres, which is twice as large as the Hoover Dam in the US, the GERD could, if filled and operated unilaterally, constitute a clear and present danger to Egypt. That is why it is essential that Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan, the three states that share the Blue Nile where the Dam is being built, agree on the rules governing the filling and operation of the GERD. As a hydropower dam, the GERD is not a water-consumptive project, which means that, if the three countries agree on appropriate rules on its filling and operation, the Dam would not appreciably reduce the quantity of water flowing in the Blue Nile and would not harm downstream communities. In other words, a win-win solution is attainable. Moreover, Egypt has repeatedly affirmed that it wholeheartedly supports Ethiopia s right to development, including by harnessing the benefits of the Nile River. However, it always takes two to tango. Ethiopia must also have the requisite political will to reach an agreement that enables it to fill and operate the GERD without affecting Egyptian water use. Unfortunately, however, almost 10 years of negotiations on the GERD have failed due to Ethiopia s obstructionism and its adoption of a consistently unilateralist approach. Initially, these talks were intended to ensure that studies on the transboundary and environmental impacts of the GERD were conducted after a panel of world-renowned experts issued a deeply troubling report that highlighted flaws in the Dam s design and criticised Ethiopia for not undertaking studies on the downstream effects of the GERD. To manage the process of preparing these studies and to ensure that the rules on the filling and operating of the GERD are developed on the basis of them, an international treaty titled the Agreement on Declaration of Principles (DoP) was signed by Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan on 23 March 2015. This treaty stipulated that the transboundary and environmental studies were to be completed and that the rules on the filling and operation of the GERD were to be agreed on the basis of these studies within 15 months. Five years later, that obligation has still not been fulfilled. At each and every juncture, Ethiopia has adopted a policy of prevarication that prevented the completion of these studies and that undermined attempts to reach an agreement on the filling and operation of the GERD. That was why Egypt called upon the United States, which is a strategic partner for both Egypt and Ethiopia, to join the negotiations as an observer and facilitator. After 12 rounds of talks that were held in Addis Ababa, Cairo, Khartoum, and Washington DC from November 2019 until February 2020, and after an herculean effort by US secretary of the treasury Steven Mnuchin, who was tasked by president Donald Trump to oversee the talks, the US, in coordination with the World Bank, prepared a compromise text of a treaty on the filling and operation of the GERD. This agreement is not an American attempt to impose a solution on the three countries. It was developed on the basis of the positions expressed by Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan during the negotiations and provides a fair, balanced, and mutually beneficial formula that preserves the core interests of the three countries. It enables Ethiopia to realise a return on its investment by rapidly and sustainably generating hydropower from the GERD, while protecting downstream states against the adverse effects of the dam and mitigating the ravaging effects of potential droughts. Like in any compromise, Egypt is not entirely comfortable with everything in the US-drafted agreement. After all, it is often said that a good compromise is one where all the parties are equally dissatisfied. However, in a show of its good will and genuine commitment to enabling Ethiopia to achieve the objectives of the GERD without harming downstream interests, Egypt accepted this agreement and initialled it on 28 February 2020. Ethiopia, on the other hand, refused to attend the final ministerial meeting that was held in Washington DC on 27-28 February 2020 and rejected the text prepared by the US. Moreover, Ethiopia recently declared that it plans to commence the filling of the GERD without an agreement with its downstream co-riparians. This act of brazen unilateralism would breach the 2015 DoP and, given the potentially disastrous effects of the GERD, would also constitute an intolerable infringement on Egyptian national security. Egypt cannot and will not stand idly by as Ethiopia empowers itself to control the destiny of the Egyptian people. That is why the US must remain engaged in this process. Not only are America s prestige and credibility as the pivots of global governance on the line, but also an agreement on the GERD would contribute to maintaining regional stability and security and chart a new course for cooperation among the Nile River riparians. We now have a unique opportunity to strike a historic deal that promises to change the face of the region. Secretary Mnuchin and his assistants worked hard for an agreement, and the US and the international community must now send a clear message to Ethiopia that a policy of unilateralism is untenable and that it must sign the agreement that is now on the table, which was the outcome of the negotiations in which it participated, and which will open limitless possibilities for the Nile River riparians and realise the aspirations of over 250 million Egyptians, Ethiopians, and Sudanese.
By the height of the Watergate scandal in 1974, virtually every major newspaper in America had called for President Richard Nixon s resignation. During the investigation and impeachment of Bill Clinton in 1998, more than 100 newspapers called for him to resign. But President Donald J. Trump? He could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody... and not a single major daily newspaper would call for his resignation. I admit that -- just like the original Trump quote it references -- that Fifth Avenue statement is a bit hyperbolic, but think about it: After three years of political and actual carnage under Trump, including Robert Mueller s description of acts that amounted to, he told Congress, obstruction of justice; Trump s "fine people on both sides" reaction to a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville where a counter-protester was killed; his rampant conflicts of interest and credible accusations of his violations of the emoluments clause of the Constitution; his close to 17,000 false statements; a travel ban that primarily targets mostly Muslim-majority countries; impeachment for alleged extortion of a foreign government (he was acquitted in the Republican Senate), and the gross mishandling of a deadly pandemic, you d think somebody on an editorial board might say it s time for the President to leave. But this has not happened. Why not? Not knowing the answer, I set out to talk to a lot of smart people to find out why. I did this because history would lead you to believe that most of the editorial boards of America s newspapers/digital sites would have stepped up to that plate already. To be clear, editorial boards are the group of writers and editors behind the daily editorials on the news -- appearing in the editorial pages -- that reflect the newspaper s values. These are separate from the "op-eds" commissioned by opinion editors from outside writers that reflect a range of views -- often at odds with those of the editorial board. But this has not happened. Why not? Not knowing the answer, I set out to talk to a lot of smart people to find out why. I did this because history would lead you to believe that most of the editorial boards of America s newspapers/digital sites would have stepped up to that plate already. To be clear, editorial boards are the group of writers and editors behind the daily editorials on the news -- appearing in the editorial pages -- that reflect the newspaper s values. These are separate from the "op-eds" commissioned by opinion editors from outside writers that reflect a range of views -- often at odds with those of the editorial board. Pulling no punches on Nixon and Clinton According to United Press International, by August of 1974, almost every major daily newspaper had called for President Richard Nixon s resignation over the Watergate scandal. The most prominent exception was the New York Times, which argued that it was the impeachment process that should determine the fate of the President. The Wall Street Journal wrote "resignation to insure the orderly transfer of power is fitting, we emphasize only because impeachment and conviction would otherwise be certain." The Chicago Tribune argued, "We are appalled. We saw the public man in his first Administration and we were impressed. We now see a man who, in the words of his old friend and defender, Senator Hugh Scott, is shabby, immoral and disgusting. The key word here is immoral." The House Judiciary Committee approved three articles of impeachment for Nixon and sent them to the House; he resigned before they could vote on them. Twenty-four years later, in 1998, more than 100 newspapers called for the resignation of President Bill Clinton, both during the Kenneth Starr investigation and the subsequent impeachment trial for obstruction of justice and perjury, over his affair with a White House intern. The editorial page editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Jane Eisner, told the New York Times that her paper debated the issue fiercely: "Ms. Eisner said she was not expecting the feelings of profound exhaustion and nausea she experienced when finally, after two and a half hours of anguished arguments, Chris Satullo, the deputy editorial page editor, went to write the Sunday editorial that began with the words Bill Clinton should resign. " Peter R. Bronson, then-editorial page editor of the Cincinnati Enquirer, told the Times, " As soon as we saw the Starr report and got knee deep, we said, This really smells, we ve seen enough, the evidence is compelling and damning, Mr. Bronson said. The ground shifts So, what changed between 1998 and 2020? Both John Dean, Nixon s White House counsel and Carl Bernstein, the famed reporter who with Bob Woodward broke news in the Washington Post of the Watergate coverup, have called Trump s Ukraine scandal far worse than anything in Watergate. And Trump s offenses were much more far reaching than Clinton s: he used American foreign policy to leverage a political favor, and he s also certainly had a fair share of tawdry scandals What has changed? Just about everything, it seems, beginning with the media: the explosion of 24/7 news networks and the endless horizon of internet-on-demand caused some newspapers to fold or shrink and lose relevance. The lucky few left standing wobbled through a decade trying to claw their way back into news dominance. Papers lost advertisers, lost readers and increasingly lost influence with the public, particularly the editorial pages: so much opinion journalism was readily available from so many other new online sources. And there also was a shifting of standards post-Clinton that held politicians to a different moral standing than in the past. Even given the multitude of Trump s scandals and failings, only two mid-sized dailies, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Connecticut Post have been willing to call for President Donald Trump s resignation (as far as I could find in an exhaustive search). And while a handful of large-newspaper editorial boards called for his impeachment, I could find only one -- the LA Times -- that called for his removal (and with a headline that covered all the bases: "Convict and remove President Trump -- and disqualify him from ever holding office again"). Why have so many editorial pages railed -- over and over -- against Trump s behavior in the most vehement terms, through scandal, impeachment, botched pandemic response and much more, and yet they won t call for him to go? Editorial boards new reluctance I put this question to more than a dozen experts, media columnists, editorial writers, academics and White House reporters. What emerged was not one simple explanation, as journalism professor Jay Rosen of New York University explained it, but a number of factors that have discouraged editorial pages around the country from taking this bold step. Central to these, according to John Avlon, a senior political analyst at CNN and the former editor in chief of the Daily Beast, is that "the reality of the hardened partisanship is beyond reason. We ve become really unmoored from our best civic traditions." And one of our best civic traditions used to be holding political leaders to account -- demanding, in extreme situations, that they resign. Almost everyone I talked to mentioned timing: editorial boards reluctance to urge Trump to resign so close to the election. One editor (who preferred to remain anonymous) at a major daily said his editorial board came close to calling for Trump s ouster during his impeachment, but added "my question is why now, when the election will be decided in six months." On one level that argument makes sense: the voters should have the final say on the President s future. But it misses the mark, given that many editorial pages have already excoriated, for example, the President s handling of the pandemic, a tragedy that has cost more than 78,000 American lives so far, without addressing his fitness to continue to serve. Any CEO who was deemed responsible for allowing a massive tragedy to unfold would be immediately called upon to resign or be fired, even if he or she were six months from retirement. When I asked my question of Margaret Sullivan, the media columnist for the Washington Post and former public editor of the New York Times, she responded by speculating, or spit-balling, as she called it: "It may have something to do with the knowledge that such a call would not be effective but would also deepen the rampant polarizations among citizens. And for some, it would exacerbate the resentment of the traditional press, if that s even possible at this point." Loss of relevance in new media landscape? Indeed, Sullivan s speculation captured the consensus of everyone I talked to. Jonathan Karl, the chief White House correspondent for ABC News, was one of them. He told me "perhaps it s the fact that there is zero percent [chance] he (Trump) would do it [resign] or that any in his party would ask him to do it." He compared the situation to Clinton, where many in the press thought he might resign and many editorial pages chimed in with their own calls. Karl makes an important point: although there was no chance Clinton was going to resign (I know that because I was there), there was a chance that members of his own party might demand it, something I also know from my personal experience then. Karl s futility argument resonates, in part due to the polarization Sullivan referenced above. The only problem with his theory is that editorial pages take positions every day knowing that they will fail to persuade politicians -- or the public -- most of the time. In defense of editorial pages recent reticence, many believe their editorials have less impact anyway in the diffuse new-media environment of today and may want to avoid highlighting that by taking a public stand -- and being shown as ineffectual or out of touch. In the 2016 campaign, the overwhelming majority of newspapers endorsed Hillary Clinton, or chose not to endorse at all. We know how that turned out. That has led, in part, to a trend among many newspapers to discontinue endorsing candidates in elections. The changing nature and business models of local papers also play a role. Jay Rosen from NYU again: "Local newspapers are weaker institutions, they have declined a lot in quality, reach and authority. This gives some of them less confidence in their voice, especially in regions where they know they will get push-back." Both Rosen and Brian Stelter, CNN s chief media correspondent, pointed to the budget cuts often hitting editorial pages even before they hit reporters. What s more, the internet, which if nothing else is full of opinion, has diluted the impact of major news organizations editorial pages, making them less relevant. But the answer to my questions goes beyond the news media s effectiveness or its business models. It has a lot to do with Trump himself -- and the tactics of the right wing of American politics. The power of the right Kurt Bardella, a former Republican who served as the spokesman for the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, put it this way: "Donald Trump and his right wing allies have invested so much time in creating the false narrative that the mainstream media is fake and the enemy of the people. I think the media falls into their trap of not wanting to go down a certain path because they re worried about being labeled biased or partisan." Jay Rosen has a similar take, saying the right wing s "working the refs" strategy works. But he goes further: "You cannot overlook the level of flak, push-back and general hatred that newspaper editors get from Trump supporters for anything like this... editors defy these attacks every day, but it can make you think twice." Nearly all the editors and columnists I talked to echoed a certain empathy for editorial page editors and a resignation that nothing was likely to change soon. But Brian Karem, columnist for Playboy, was less charitable. "Major newspapers are shaky -- not on the solid financial ground they were even 10 years ago," he told me in an email. "They are fearful of losing any more advertisers or readers... they see no need to buck the tide or even join it... We are unlikely to find a Katharine Graham in the age of Donald Trump -- though we desperately need one." He was referring to the Washington Post publisher who weathered tremendous blow-back when she presided over the paper during the reporting on Watergate that led to Nixon s resignation. So, where does this leave us? Have the nation s editorial boards -- with so many of them clearly and frequently expressing no confidence in this President s ability to do his job -- abdicated their duty? I agree with Professor Rosen s admonition that there is no simple explanation... and I think my friend Brian Karem is being a bit harsh. In my view, there is a simple solution to this problem. They should go down fighting. If the President is unfit to lead the country, then say it. And if lives are at risk and our Constitution is being attacked on a regular basis, then it is the duty of our great editorial pages to seek the ultimate remedy -- a call for resignation. Yes, the election is only six months away and voters usually should have the last word. But if the President s policies are a clear and present danger to Americans, or his behavior -- like Clinton s and Nixon s -- so outside of the agreed upon norms, why aren t the guardians of truth at the nation s top editorial pages screaming: He has to go?
Ethiopia has a very diverse topography that includes both flat and mountainous areas and receives an average of about 1.2 metres of rainfall annually, generating several rivers that originate in Ethiopia and flow through its southern, eastern, northern and western borders. Forests and wildlife are common, with huge pastures and rain-fed crops. It is believed by many Ethiopians that Egypt has captured their Blue Nile waters, established its ancient civilisation and present renaissance, leaving them in poverty and deprivation. This is not true; Ethiopia has built a great history and civilisation in East Africa. Currently, Ethiopia is trying hard to revitalise and develop its security in the region, as well as promote the vision of electrical links between its dams and neighbouring countries to export electricity, just like the Congo in West Africa. Unfortunately, Ethiopia, like many others, believed that Egypt after the 2011 unrest would be too overwhelmed to fight for its water rights and made sure to use that opportunity and lay down the corner stone of the Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile in April 2011. They increased the capacity of the dam several times until it reached the latest design capacity of 74 billion cubic metres in the beginning of 2012. It should be mentioned that a dam with this capacity gives Ethiopia total control over the Blue Nile waters. However, Egypt returned to the negotiating table in June 2013. The negotiations on the Renaissance Dam were a ploy to distract Egypt and Sudan until it becomes a reality that cannot be changed. Egypt has been negotiating in good faith until it was obvious that the negotiations were not going anywhere, and announced the failure of negotiations and the need for an international mediator to facilitate the GERD talks and ensure that negative impacts are minimised on the downstream countries Egypt and Sudan. In November 2019, Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia agreed to a time frame for the negotiations under the supervision of the United States of America and the World Bank, with the aim of reaching an agreement on the rules for filling and operating the dam so as not to cause significant harm to the downstream countries. The negotiations continued with positive statements from all participants, until we Ethiopia did not attend the last session in Washington in February 2020, and announced its sudden withdrawal from the negotiations. Ethiopia has argued that the draft of this agreement is an extension of the old colonial agreements for the management of the Nile Basin water, in an attempt to provoke upstream countries aiming to be strengthened by them in this international confrontation. Ethiopia has since made statements filled with violent accusations and false allegations, including that the Washington agreement did not highlight Ethiopia s right to "reasonable and equitable utilisation of the waters of the Blue Nile" and that the US should not underestimate this Ethiopian right under the pretext of water needs in the two downstream countries. In addition, Ethiopia has been calling for the redistribution of the Nile waters according to the Entebbe Agreement – which was previously rejected by Egypt, Sudan and the Congo – meaning enforcing the water allocation according to the Ethiopian preference and that of some upstream countries. Ethiopia continued to claim that it took all steps that ensure that the Renaissance Dam would not harm Egypt, but rather claimed that the dam will bring Egypt tremendous benefits, playing the role of the adversary and the judge at the same time. If we examine the Ethiopian actions regarding other transboundary rivers, we can notice that this same exact ploy has happened before with its neighbouring countries Somalia, Eritrea and Kenya, where it built dams on shared rivers without prior notifications, studies, negotiations, or agreements, and without taking into consideration the reasonable and equitable utilisation of water. Recently, the Ethiopian media has repeatedly stated that Ethiopia s plan was initially to fill the Renaissance Dam in three years, but agreed to Egypt s request to extend the period to seven years, in order to not harm Egypt, which will cause tremendous losses in the dam s electricity sales during this period. The truth is that the Ethiopian demand to fill a dam of this magnitude in three years is a provocative request, whereby Ethiopia seeks to deepen its policy of domination in the region. The dam has a capacity of 74 billion cubic metres, and filling it over three years requires 25 billion cubic metres annually, in addition to 3 billion cubic metres lost annually to evaporation from the reservoir surface, meaning, storing 28 billion cubic metres annually from the river s natural flow. The average annual flow of the river is around 49.5 billion cubic metres, meaning that Ethiopia wants to store 28 billion cubic metres annually, which leaves Egypt and Sudan together with 20 billion cubic meters, that is of course assuming it is not a dry year. Which leaves us with the question: what would happen in a dry year scenario? Will Ethiopia store the water in the dam, while Egypt and Sudan suffer? Ethiopia claims that the Renaissance Dam is for development purposes and for the good of the Ethiopian people. Let s examine that claim carefully. The GERD will supposedly generate 12,000 gigawatts of electricity annually, meaning that the annual electricity production of the Renaissance Dam will reach 12 billion kilowatt-hr. The price of electricity in Ethiopia for household use is only one US cent, and the commercial price is 1.8 cents per kilowatt-hour, making the average local price (domestic and commercial) about 1.4 cents/ kilowatts-hour. This means that if the electricity of the Renaissance Dam is used solely within Ethiopia, then the total revenue of electricity production is about $160 million annually, which will not be enough to cover the expected annual expenses for operating and maintaining the dam and paying the annual instalments for the dam loans. Assuming the government raises the local electricity price 3-4 times in order to cover the annual income for operation and maintenance costs, and the instalment loans, can the Ethiopian citizen live with this increase in power prices? In order to be able to afford the operation and maintenance costs of the dam, the Ethiopian government must raise the local electricity price and export part of the electricity abroad. The economic feasibility study of the electrical connection with Egypt and Sudan was based on the export of more than 3 megawatts to Egypt and Sudan (about more than half of the dam s electricity, one-third for Sudan and two-thirds for Egypt) at a price of 8 US cents per kilowatt-hour, which increases the annual income of the dam to about $550 million, which covers the costs of operation and maintenance, and provides an annual premium for dam loans to be repaid over 15-20 years. It may be necessary to double the internal price several times and increase the export price to 9-10 cents per kilowatt to be able to better pay the dam debt. However, after Ethiopia has revealed its true face with Egypt during the negotiations, Egypt will of course, not import any electricity from Ethiopia. On the other hand, Sudan alone will not be able to absorb this large amount of electricity aside from the fact that it has not yet started the construction of electricity transmission lines from the dam site and its need to develop its own internal electrical network. Moreover, Ethiopia has not finished the transmission line to transfer the dam s electricity to its own internal network (financed by a Chinese loan), and it may need one to two years to be completed, and it is desperate to double the price of local electricity three or four times to compensate for the deficit resulting from Egypt not purchasing Ethiopian electricity. Meanwhile, there are many obstacles that prevent the filling and operation of the dam, since the middle part of the dam still has a long way to go and the establishment of electricity transmission lines for the Ethiopian and Sudanese internal networks could take years. Now the question to ask here is: why is Ethiopia in such a hurry to start filling the GERD?
It was appropriate that during the week in which we commemorated the 100th anniversary of the San Remo Conference, Israelis and Americans were discussing the Israeli government s declared intention to annex large portions of occupied Palestinian lands. As was the case at San Remo, the arguments made and the language used by the parties to this discussion were deeply upsetting, demonstrating no respect for the victims of their designs — the Palestinian Arab people. One of the purposes of San Remo was to ratify British and French claims to divide up the Arab East, which they saw as the spoils of World War I. It made no difference to them that the Arab inhabitants of the region opposed their imperial ambitions. Nor did they care to honour the agreements they had previously signed with Arab leaders in which they claimed to respect the Arabs right to independence at the war s end. The signed agreements had been but a ruse to secure Arab support against the Ottoman Empire. And with the war over, the British representative said, “in Palestine, we do not propose even to go through the form of consulting… the desire and prejudices of the… Arabs who inhabit that ancient land.” Masking their real intent to control territories that would give them footholds in the Eastern Mediterranean, the participants at San Remo declared that the Arabs were not ready for self-rule and so would require British and French tutelage. The result was that the Arab East was carved up into Lebanon and Syria, which became French Mandates, and Palestine and Trans-Jordan, which were placed under British control, with the British pledging to honour their commitment to support a “Jewish homeland” in Palestine. By what right were these decisions made? On the one hand, the justification was the imperialist s “right of conquest”. Underlying this claim, however, was a deep and abiding racism that viewed Arabs as a lower form of humanity not deserving of the same consideration accorded to Westerners. One hundred years later, much the same is in evidence in the discussion over Israel s plans to annex occupied Palestinian lands. And it is true for most of the American sides involved in this discussion — the Trump administration and the foreign policy establishment. For its part, the Trump administration issued its own updated version of San Remo, calling it the “Deal of the Century”. They recognised Israel s right of conquest, giving them the nod to annex large portions of the lands Israel occupied in 1967. That the “Deal” was Israel-centric was no surprise, since it was concocted by three US administration officials invested in an illegal West Bank settlement. Like San Remo, the “Deal” declared that the Arabs weren t ready for statehood, so it didn t recognise their sovereign rights. Instead, it laid out “specific terms and conditions” they must fulfill before they are to be allowed to practise a form of limited self-rule in portions of the West Bank. Which parts of the territories could Israel annex? According to the “Deal”, that would be decided by a US-Israeli map-making committee, once again replicating the San Remo Conference s arrogant contempt for Arab rights. In the end, however, the decision on what to include would be, in the words of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, “an Israeli decision”. The way Israel s annexation plans are being discussed by Washington s foreign policy establishment isn t much better. While most in that establishment are opposed to Israel annexing the occupied territories, their reasoning is oftentimes disturbingly Israel-focused. Largely made up of former administration officials, whose failures have brought us to where we are today, or media commentators who have had a dismal record on Middle East issues, this foreign policy crowd are wringing their hands in nervous anticipation of annexation, but for all the wrong reasons. The rhetoric they have been using to express their concerns displays a total lack of understanding of their responsibility for the current state of affairs, coupled with a strong undercurrent of racism. A featured opinion piece in The Washington Post by that paper s prize-winning Jackson Diehl, serves as a good example. The article, headlined “Trump now has the power to forever alter Israel s character,” establishes from the outset that the concern was about annexation s effect on Israel. There are, it appears, two major concerns. Annexation will aggravate Israel s future relations with a post-Trump United States. It would alienate liberals and put bipartisan support for Israel at risk. The other major concern is that annexation would compromise the establishment of a two-state solution in which Israel can remain a “Jewish democratic State”. Here s Diehl: “If there is no Palestine, Israel will be doomed to become a binational state rather than a Jewish one, or else adopt an apartheid system in which millions of Palestinians are ruled by Israel but lack full political rights.” There are several observations to be made in pointing out where this “analysis” falls short. In the first place, it ignores the fact that apartheid already is the current reality for Palestinians living under varying forms of oppressive Israeli rule in Gaza, East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank. Despite having a “Palestinian Authority”, Israel continues to conduct nightly raids into Palestinian cities, confiscate Arab-owned lands and stifle Palestinian freedom and economic development by controlling all access and egress for Palestinians. It also fails to recognise the hypocrisy of claiming that Israel can ever be both Jewish and democratic — a fact brought home by the racist campaign waged by Benjamin Netanyahu against the recently elected 15 members of Israel s Knesset from the Arab-led “Joint List”. This incitement took the form of Netanyahu s claim that should his opponents have established a government with Arab support, it would be an illegitimate “minority government”. What the foreign policy establishment also fails to acknowledge is their responsibility for this mess. Their acquiescence, in and out of government, to Israeli settlement expansion, and their silence in the face of Israel s gross violations of Palestinian human rights, are the reasons why there are 650,000 settlers in the West Bank and what Israel calls “East Jerusalem” — more than triple the number that existed when the current “peace process” began. Past administrations failures to take effective measures to rein in these Israeli policies have created a sense of impunity, helping to move Israeli politics to where it is today. They have also contributed to weakening and discrediting Palestinian leadership, leading to a dysfunctional situation in the Palestinian polity. So spare me the crocodile tears or the nervous hand-wringing over the lost prospects of a two-state solution. That might have been possible 30 years ago, if the terms of the Oslo Accords had been honoured. They were ignored because Israel s refusal to honour these terms was not punished by the US “honest broker”. What we have today is one state — an Apartheid state — with slightly more Arabs than Jews living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Nor will we see the fulfillment of the “Deal of the Century” since that holds no promise for the Palestinians who will not accept a future as a people who will be permanently subordinate to Israel. This is the reality created over the past 100 years since San Remo. And it will continue to be the reality until Palestinians are seen by Israeli Jews and US policymakers as equal human beings with full rights.
Since the Peloponnesian War that broke out in Greece in the 5th century BCE, theorists of international interactions have highlighted the relative positioning of the dominant power over other factors in the international order. The importance of this war comes from the fact that it was one of the first documented historical accounts — by the Greek historian Thucydides — of a military clash between two powers. One of these powers was a dominant force represented by the powerful and dominating Sparta and the other was a rising power represented by the ambitious and wise Athena. Sparta saw dangers that might arise due to the assumption that Athena would compete with it for its share in the region, and this fear drove it to directly clash with Athena. As fear is an innate feature of the human psyche, some experts see it — based on much historical evidence — as an inevitable drive for the outbreak of war between the rising power and the dominant power in any international order. This explains why many analyses and observations tend to predict an inevitable war between the United States and China, because of the threat China poses to the geostrategic weight of American influence. However, the high cost of large-scale destruction resulting from any war between two nuclear powers makes the decision to launch a nuclear war an irrational act, as both sides are capable of causing mutually assured destruction. And because the American central mind should be serious in neutralizing the Chinese economic threat before it turns into an explicit military threat, this supports the hypothesis that deep-state circles in the United States have decided to exert pressure on multiple levels to limit the expansion of the Chinese dragon all over the world. Perhaps the “Tariff War” initiated by President Donald Trump between American and Chinese exports is one of those means of increasing pressure since he took office. On the other hand, the tools of fifth and sixth generation warfare are always present at the table of international tensions. Observers have often linked a mysterious event with such tools, aiming at assuming narratives of the possible political characterization of what is going on. Of course, the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, which started in China, played a role in giving logical and — to some extent — causal reasoning to the proposition that this virus was synthesized in a laboratory by a certain actor whose goal is to weaken China without firing a single bullet, thus destroying its economic power in the short and medium term. However, China s success to date in responding to this epidemic on the one hand, and the emergence of the novel coronavirus in Western European cities and in more economically significant US cities such as California and New York on the other, supports the hypothesis that China has been able to absorb the first shock and direct the threat to other geographical spots. Or perhaps the virus synthesizers made some miscalculations, and they never expected that it could reach their economic interests as well! The accusation that China launched this virus is still a hypothesis without any compelling, or even supporting, evidence — especially since the hypothesis of being synthesized in a laboratory is still weak, refuted by many certain facts that it is of natural origin. Until the facts unfold and the cloud of the “post-corona world” clears, China will still have many strengths that the United States views as a direct threat, the most important of which are: China s Military and Economic Growth Until 2018, Chinese military spending was approximately $250 billion, with an increase of 190 percent compared to the 2008 military budget of $86.3 billion. This spending was accompanied by China showing behavior that can be described as aggressive in relation to some situations, such as creating artificial military islands in the South China Sea and its claim to sovereign rights in this vital part of the world based on its ownership of the islands. Then, in August 2017, China opened its first military base outside its borders in Djibouti, one of the countries in the Horn of Africa, overseeing the Gulf of Aden, to secure shipping lines for its vessels. It has also been noted in recent years that China has adopted open positions in conflicts in more than one spot, such as its vote with Russia in the Security Council more than once, which means giving up its political neutrality that it usually follows in order to devote itself to its economic expansion in the international order. Therefore, the policy of peaceful global rise, formulated by the Chinese political advisor, Zheng Bijian, may not be fit to explain the behavior of the current foreign policy, which does not confine its tools to soft power only for global repositioning any more. The Growing Nuclear Power of China Contrary to popular belief, China is not only developing its economy, but is working to develop its arsenal of nuclear weapons as well — especially tactical nuclear weapons. American news website The Hill reported that according to the China Academy of Engineering Physics China conducted around 200 tests of short-range tactical nuclear weapons in the South China Sea in between September 2014 and December 2017, with an average of five tests per month. The United States, meanwhile, conducts such tests once a month, according to data from the National Laboratory in California. In contrast, in January 2018, the Pentagon published a new American nuclear doctrine that provides for low-yield nuclear weapons — which have a destructive effect, but on a limited scale — to deter its adversaries, the foremost being China and Russia. In order to deter its adversaries the United States withdrew from the Intermediate‑Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, signed in December 1987 between the United States and Russia. This was the only bilateral nuclear agreement of its kind, under which both sides agreed not to manufacture, test or deploy any ballistic, winged or medium-range missiles, and to destroy all missile systems with an average range of (500-5500) km. The termination of this treaty in August 2019 also threatens the future of another agreement: the “START III” treaty signed in April 2010 between the United States and Russia, which expires in 2021. This treaty is not expected to be extended unless Washington meets its nuclear security requirements — requirements that are not related to the Russians, but rather to the new militarily emerging power, China, which the United States wants to “drag” to sign treaties that enable it to control Chinese nuclear weapons quantitatively and qualitatively. In the same month that the iIntermediate‑Range Nuclear Forces Treaty expired, President Donald Trump revealed his desire to include China in a new treaty with Russia. The Economist reported on an analysis of a former CIA agent, Christopher Johnson, linking withdrawal from the treaty to the tensions over the South China Sea. China s continued development of its medium-range tactical arsenals there makes it dangerous for the United States to adhere to a treaty that prevents it from developing similar capabilities. Johnson indicated that the early days can determine the fate of any war in the future, and that having military capabilities that enable the United States to reach the heart of Chinese territory is of great importance to the American military in any confrontation with the Chinese army. If the United States does not have the ability to strike anti-ship missile bases located within Chinese territory, then its military capabilities in the region will be limited to its bases in Japan, and sending its warships to the waters near the coast of China would be a dangerous risk. The Belt and Road Initiative As part of China s desire to harness economic globalization to serve its vital interests, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced in September 2013 the “Belt and Road” initiative aimed at establishing a land and sea network for goods and services from China. According to expert estimates, this project is capable of shifting from the purely economic dimensions that China announced to more profound dimensions related to military positioning. A detailed assessment published by the US Department of Defense in December 2018 warned that the Belt and Road Initiative may carry military dimensions if China manages to have a military presence along trade lines to secure its navigational capabilities and economic interests. With the start of the coronavirus crisis in the West, China rushed to exploit the crisis diplomatically in a pragmatic way. It aimed to polish its image in front of the world, while also insisting on denying some health experts assumption that the source of the novel virus was the consumption of wild animals and bats in a traditional Chinese market! After China was able to absorb the first shock and contain the most dangerous wave of the virus, it was quick to extend a helping hand to many European countries, such as Italy. Not only did Beijing supply Italy with medical equipment at a time when supplies were scarce, but it also sent health personnel with experience in dealing with the pandemic at ground zero in Wuhan. It considered this initiative a part of constructing what the Chinese President described as a “Health Silk Road” in a phone call with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte when the first Chinese aid arrived in Italy. Rome was the first capital in the Group of Seven that joined the “Belt and Road” initiative in March 2019, which sparked American and European condemnation. All these facts and others are important indications of the exacerbation of Chinese-American tensions, which may be a catalyst for some entities in America to develop the novel coronavirus as part of its hybrid warfare against China that started with tariffs. On the other hand, it should not be forgotten that the nature of the spread of the virus may indicate that it was not synthesized in a lab — despite its strange composition, and despite a statement by the spokesman for the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, professor Talal Nsouli, who expressed on Al Arabiya his surprise at the composition of the virus on April 8, 2020. He said that every RNA piece of the virus is designed to destroy a certain organ, wondered whether it was natural or not, but left identifying its source to politicians. Until that happens, humanity will have to hold its breath, since finding compelling evidence regarding the involvement of a laboratory in artificially synthesizing the coronavirus will lead to a direct war after the hybrid rounds of warfare that we have witnessed.
The world is facing an unprecedented challenge, forcing country leaders as well as each and every person around the world to change their habits, to act collectively and with social responsibility and to think out of the box. After hitting the Chinese province of Wuhan at the end of 2019, the virus has spread from there to almost every country in the world, sparing no continent. It has by now reached the scale of an unparalleled global pandemic. This global pandemic severely impacts our economies leading to massive job destructions and exerts an extreme pressure on our health and social protection systems. Being located at the heart of Europe, France and Germany are hit hard by COVID-19. Naturally, the first response for both countries has consisted in national measures to reduce the number of infections and to mitigate the social and economic consequences of the pandemic. Together with our European partners and the European Union we have also put in place a concrete solidarity on the different levels of this crisis from the very beginning. Germany, for instance, did not hesitate to bring intensive care patients from France, Italy and the Netherlands to German hospitals for medical treatment. France, although witnessing an acceleration of the epidemic on its soil, sent millions of protective equipment to other European countries. We also organised joint European repatriation flights to ensure that stranded European citizens all around the world could go back home. Besides, we are pooling our European research capacities to produce a vaccine which could immune citizens against the virus. These examples show that the spirit of solidarity, which is a core principle of the European Union, grows even stronger when sailing stormy waters and that we can find European answers to the urgent questions coming up with such a crisis, reaching from coordinating medical supplies to joint vaccine research and economic strategies and support. Thinking of the post-corona time, our aim as Europeans is to emerge from this stress-test stronger and even more committed to tackle future challenges together. But just as the virus does not stop at borders, European solidarity also goes far beyond Europe. Because no nation alone can overcome this challenge, it is absolutely crucial for Germany and France, as well as for the EU, to join forces with neighbouring regions and partner countries around the world, particularly in Africa. To this end, the EU has dedicated a package of measures called “Team Europe” which aims to support the efforts made by partner countries to face the COVID-19 pandemic by reallocating more than 20 billion euros, combined between resources from the EU institutions and its member States. France and Germany have also taken the lead in demanding G7 and G20 partners for a debt relief for African countries because Africa can t be struggling to repay its debt and, at the same time, fight the COVID-19 pandemic and curb its economic and social impact. Egypt is facing the challenge of tackling coronavirus, too. The Egyptian authorities have taken decisive measures to curb the spread of the virus and protect lives while addressing the issue of economic stability. The sense of responsibility demonstrated by the Egyptian people in following the new social rules to protect themselves and others, which is so important, has been remarkable and deserves our respect. Many countries in the region are now looking at the Egyptian model of fighting the pandemic as an inspiration for their own actions and strategies and expectations are high. To overcome this hardship and defeat the virus, France and Germany are standing today, more than ever, side by side with Egypt. Through our traditional bilateral cooperation, we are supporting the sustainable and economic growth of Egypt and its population through activities in job-related private sector development, water, energy, education, urban development and digitisation. Moreover, we are working, together with the European Union, on immediate support actions, especially in the health sector to provide to Egypt all the necessary assistance it has required from its friends. We are fully committed, also as founding and active members of the International Monetary Fund, to support the Egyptian government s determination to consolidate the benefits of the economic reforms it has implemented during the last four years. We are also preparing a mid-term action plan, mobilising resources from our French and German cooperation agencies to help Egypt to reboost its economy once the crisis is behind us. We know that we will have to live with this virus for months, maybe even years to come, but together and united we will eventually defeat it. At times like these, when we are forced to socially keep our distance, countries and peoples all over the world must get even closer in the common fight of the pandemic and its long-term impact. Only through unity, solidarity and cooperation, with great commitment and flexibility, will we overcome the current and future challenges. This may, at times, also require choosing new creative ways offside the well-known paths. Both, Germany and France, are ready to tackle this challenge together with our partners in Egypt.
The three-minute video message posted by George W. Bush on Saturday -- and President Donald Trump s response less than 24 hours later -- are powerful reminders of one overlooked casualty of Trump s norm-upending presidency: the moral unity and power of the men in the Presidents Club has been shattered and if they want to speak now it is on their own and not as a team. "We are not partisan combatants," Bush said in his message honoring the tens of thousands of Americans who have died in the pandemic. "We are human beings, equally vulnerable and equally wonderful in the sight of God. We rise or fall together, and we are determined to rise." Trump replied with a caustic Tweet Sunday morning: "He [George W. Bush] was nowhere to be found speaking up against the greatest Hoax in American history!" (He was referring to the impeachment investigation). I am far from surprised by Trump s reaction to Bush s call for unity because when I interviewed him about his predecessors Trump was clear just how poorly he regarded all of them. About a year before the outbreak of the coronavirus, I interviewed President Trump in the Oval Office to discuss the men who had sat there before him. When I asked him if he could empathize more with them now that he had been in office for two years he replied without hesitation: "No." As I walked out of the Oval Office once our interview was over, he shouted, "Say hi to President Bush for me!" in a voice laden with sarcasm. In Bush s video, which shows nurses and first responders helping victims of the coronavirus and evokes the trauma the country faced after 9/11 while he was in office, Bush does not utter Trump s name once. But Trump clearly took it personally, nonetheless. It seems as though any call for empathy and compassion is a direct attack on him -- and maybe it is. "Let us remember how small our differences are in the face of this shared threat," Bush says as images of a little boy taping a hand-drawn rainbow to his window and a man wearing a face mask flash on the screen over stirring music. George W. Bush has taken a cue from his father and hardly ever speaks about politics in his post-presidential years, including during Barack Obama s presidency. He has enjoyed retirement and he and his wife Laura refer to their time since leaving Washington as "the afterlife in the promised land in Texas." In fact, Bush has not spoken with Trump at any length since he helped during the controversial confirmation hearings of his former aide Brett Kavanaugh. This video shows how much internal pressure he must be under to do something. There are only five men alive today (counting President Trump) who know the loneliness and isolation of the presidency. But the current politics of rancor makes the work of the former presidents more difficult, because everything is now seen through a political lens; even things that used to be relatively innocuous have taken on new meaning. Immigration reform is part of the work of the Bush Institute, a nonpartisan policy center at the George W. Bush Presidential Center that holds naturalization ceremonies for new US citizens. "Because of the nature of President Trump, when we talk about the same things that we ve been talking about ever since President Bush left office, they are automatically viewed as criticism of the current president," an aide to the former president told me, who asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the subject. "President Bush said something about a free press and suddenly it s a challenge to Donald Trump. No, he s been saying this forever." Over the weekend, Trump proved this to be absolutely true: Bush s video had little directly to do with him, but he took it as a personal rebuke. At George W. Bush s presidential library dedication, in 2013, when all the living former presidents were gathered together, Obama said, "We ve been called the world s most exclusive club. . . . But the truth is, our club is more like a support group. . . . Because as each of these leaders will tell you, no matter how much you may think you re ready to assume the office of the presidency, it s impossible to truly understand the nature of the job until it s yours, until you re sitting at that desk. And that s why every president gains a greater appreciation for all those who served before him; for the leaders from both parties who have taken on the momentous challenges and felt the enormous weight of a nation on their shoulders." And because of that common understanding, they can sometimes forgive mistakes. As I report in my book, a close friend of Jimmy Carter told me he apologized to George W. Bush at his library dedication for being too tough on him, especially for his outspoken criticism of the war in Iraq. "Oh, hush," Bush replied. Trump s response to a former president s call for empathy is a reminder of just how little he has in common with his predecessors and how poorly he will fit in the Presidents Club. Trump is the outlier and he is proud of it. "I don t think I ll fit in very well," he told me in our interview with a sly smile. The scorched-earth path he s chosen has made it impossible to maintain any friendships, or even civility, with his predecessors. "I m a different kind of a president," he declared. During this crisis Trump has not called the former presidents together, like George W. Bush did when he asked his father and Bill Clinton to travel the world and seek help after the tsunami in Asia, and to raise money after Hurricane Katrina, or as Obama did when he asked George W. Bush and Clinton to raise awareness and funds after the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Things have changed. Trump s reaction to Bush s video about national unity and compassion is proof of that. When I asked Trump whether he would go to Obama s presidential library opening, as is customary, the question sounded silly as soon as the words came out of my mouth. "I don t know. He probably wouldn t invite me," he said. "Why should he?" That is a remarkable statement that gets lost in the chaos of this presidency.
The coronavirus epidemic is a global public health crisis, and was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization after it spread from Wuhan, China and reached the vast majority of the world s countries. While the world is struggling today to contain this pandemic that caused the death of thousands and disrupted economies worldwide, another battle has emerged that may be even fiercer. Its parties are the major global powers where the pandemic posed internal and external challenges, and they are still exchanging accusations, blaming each other for the virus. Since the beginning of the crisis, US President Donald Trump seemed to hold the Chinese authorities responsible for the spread of the virus that was first discovered in Wuhan, central China, taking every opportunity to refer to the virus as the “Chinese virus.” Even though he faced harsh criticism for racism, over time the term “Chinese virus” started gaining momentum in American circles, given that China has acted irresponsibly when they left the door open for the virus to spread all over the world . As for China, the pandemic was an opportunity to enhance its image in front of the world, and Beijing showered European countries fighting the virus with aid as part of a diplomatic campaign to win alliances and portray itself as the world s savior. However, in an unwelcome transformation, China is facing today a clear strategy to raise blame and suspicion against it from several countries, which in turn might undermine China s aspirations to become a global economic and political power. Doubt cast cloud over china Nearly four months after the emergence of the novel coronavirus, new reports appear accusing China of contributing to the spread of the virus. Some even mentioned that Beijing allowed it to spread to demonstrate the country s power to the world, while others openly insinuated that a Wuhan laboratory is the source of the virus. This controversy is no longer limited to media articles, but has also appeared in statements on the highest levels. During a press conference, for example, President Donald Trump stressed that his country has started a comprehensive investigation to find the source of the virus, a fact that was confirmed by CNN when it reported that American intelligence is investigating on this matter. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also told Fox News that Beijing is required to disclose everything they know about the spread of the novel coronavirus, particularly hinting at the responsibility of Wuhan Institute of Virology, where the virus first appeared. The main American narrative came in a Fox News report that there was a certain way through which the virus may have been leaked from a laboratory in Wuhan, where the virus first appeared in late 2019 while researchers in the laboratory were studying coronavirus in bats. Then, the narrative claims, the Chinese government covered up the incident by blaming the seafood market and refusing to allow an independent investigation. European accusations seem less severe than their American counterparts. However, regardless of how the virus started, European governments criticize China for lack of transparency, withholding information, failing to announce the true scope of the epidemic, and hampering the world s ability to respond to this pandemic in time. This position was emphasized by the French President Emmanuel Macron in an interview with the Financial Times, when he mentioned that there are gaps in China s management of the novel coronavirus crisis, and that “there are clearly things that have happened that we don t know about.” He also pointed out that in democracies that guarantee freedom of information and expression, crisis management is transparent and is subject to discussion. Thus, Europe believes that the Chinese authorities have exposed the world to dangers to public health and economic turmoil, which is not entirely separate from blaming it for being the source of the virus. However, China denies these accusations that the virus was designed in a laboratory, or that it was a natural virus but they allowed it to spread, and China s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Zhao Lijian said “I d like to remind you that the WHO has repeatedly stated that there is no evidence showing the virus was made in a lab.” China bears legal liability With the outbreak of the coronavirus in Wuhan at the beginning of the year, Chinese authorities made a clear and deliberate disinformation campaign regarding the virus. Countries of the world agree that it could have been possible to save China and the world from thousands of deaths if China had acted openly and in accordance with its legal obligations as one of 194 countries included in the International Health Regulations of 2005, which requires China to provide information to the international community to aid in understanding of the situation and its potential public health impact. Article six of the regulations stipulates that “a State Party shall continue to communicate to the WHO timely, accurate and sufficiently detailed public health information available to it,” in order to prevent the spread of epidemics. There is a growing agreement among Republicans and Democrats in the United States that the Chinese government bears liability for the spread of the virus, since China withheld fundamental information for weeks, during which other countries could have adopted measures that contribute to preventing the spread of the virus. More than a month after the crisis started, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused the Chinese government of still withholding important information. These accusations became more credible in early April, when the CIA questioned Beijing s official numbers on the extent of the virus spread in China. Moreover, many people in the United States and the world want to hold China accountable judicially. For example, Director of Government Relations at the Berman Law Group and former Florida Senator Joseph Abruzzo said, “This could have been contained while Chinese officials instead attempted to put a positive narrative on the unfolding epidemic for China s own economic self-interest.” For his part, the co-founder of the group, Russell Berman, indicated that the Chinese government is a defendant in a class-action lawsuit and should pay huge compensation to the United States and the American people. Also, the British Henry Jackson Society issued a report in which it demanded that China should — pursuant to international law — pay US$6.5 trillion for hiding the initial information related to the virus, which resulted in more than 165,000 deaths so far and the loss of trillions of dollars on the economic level as a result of the lockdowns in place in most countries of the world. According to the British newspaper Express, Germany sent China a €149 Billion bill (around $160 billion) for coronavirus damages so far. The list also detailed the German losses as: €27 billion charge for lost tourism revenue, up to €7.2 billion for the German film industry, a million euros an hour for German airline Lufthansa and €50 billion for German small businesses. Australia did the same when Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton called on Chinese authorities to disclose information about the source of the virus. He also mentioned that the virus has killed 60 Australians, that hundreds of infected people are in critical condition, and that all of those families would demand answers and transparency. He added that, “It s not too much to ask […] So I think it is incumbent upon China to answer those questions and provide the information so that people can have clarity about exactly what happened because we don t want it to be repeated and we know this is not the first instance of a virus being spread from the wildlife wet markets.” China may lose its status as a superpower Many assumed that the chaotic response to the virus in the West might allow China to advance in creating a vacuum in global governance, as this pandemic demonstrated the failure of the American administration to provide any meaningful international response. It also reflected the European Union s preoccupation with domestic response only, which may provide an opportunity for the Chinese authorities to exploit the situation. In addition, these conditions provided an opportunity to China to rewrite the narrative of the novel coronavirus outbreak, in an attempt to distance itself from criticism of its initial attempts to cover up the outbreak, and to pretend to be ready to save the world based on its successful experience in controlling the virus. But these attempts proved to be premature, and it may negatively impact China, leaving it in isolation and removing trust in it — the trust that China needed decades of gradual progress to build within the international community until it rose to the rank of the second superpower in the world. This may also significantly affect the reforms that lifted hundreds of millions of Chinese people out of poverty and helped China ascend to the global stage. All these achievements and their results would not have been achieved without the engagement and support of the international community. Indeed, this trust was undermined as accusations against China grew regarding the coronavirus pandemic, and these accusations may end the leading role China played in the world for nearly 30 years. The consequences of China s handling the pandemic are already beginning to appear. In Britain, prominent conservative figures are calling to rethink Britain s efforts to strengthen ties with China, and these calls are demanding that the British government not allow Huawei to obtain rights to build infrastructure for 5G technology — which the United States has always been against, accusing the company of spying for the Chinese government. Similarly, European and Australian governments rushed to prevent Chinese companies from buying assets cheaply amidst economic meltdowns, and Japan explicitly allocated $2.2 billion to help Japanese companies move supply chains out of China. Finally, at a time when many expected that the “post-Corona world” might be led by China, global developments show that such an assumption was premature, and the reality is that the coronavirus crisis demonstrates a rapidly changing situation in the world. When China appeared as a savior of the world, and its diplomatic and media campaign began to bear fruit, its plan backfired. Today, China is facing an unprecedented historical challenge that will not only affect its global image and reputation, but may also go beyond that and China becomes required to pay hundreds of billions of dollars in compensation to the world. Perhaps the coming days will be darker for China s interests, especially as countries are looking for the source of the virus. Here, the most important questions are: Will the Arab countries join the list of claimants for compensation of trillions of dollars, or will they remain neutral? And will China yield to global pressure and pay those trillions that took them many years to collect, thus causing China s “economic miracle” to be set back for twenty years?
In relation to the article “Coronavirus: Spain s failed response to the pandemic” in Al-Ahram Weekly of 16 April, I would like to make some comments that I think were overlooked in your analysis. No doubt, Spain has been particularly affected by the Covid-19 epidemic. For weeks, our infection rates and deaths have been painfully high. Covid-19 hit Spain early. Our country s high level of economic openness, and its leadership position in international tourist flows (82 million tourists in 2018), may explain this. However, the quick expansion of the pandemic was due to some cultural and social characteristics of Spanish society, which also conditioned the way we faced the pandemic. These include a mild climate that favours social activities outdoors even during the months of January and February and the essential role of the family and respect for the elderly. Twenty per cent of the Spanish population is over 65 years of age. We rank sixth in the world in life expectancy, partly because of the quality of the healthcare sector and our people s trust in it. When Covid-19 hit us, it was clear that it was the elderly who were being more affected. Given the high mortality rate observed, many went to the hospitals as soon as symptoms appeared. Indeed, for two weeks we had our ICU units and our hospitals crowded with more patients than available beds or ventilators. And many had to sit or lie in lines waiting in difficult conditions. It is true that other healthcare systems that do not admit old people in ICU units have seen more success in avoiding oversaturation. We resorted to building temporary hospitals in sports or convention facilities to accommodate all those who needed care. And because of this generous policy, we have had many cases of men and women over 70, 80, and even 90 years old recovering after weeks of having occupied an ICU bed. As Spaniards, we feel both happy and proud of this. And I don t think you can call that a “failed response.” As the pandemic became known, and as early as February, Spain started following the guidelines established by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and took measures accordingly. On 14 March, only two days after the WHO had declared a global pandemic, the Spanish government decreed a state of alarm that included the strictest policies of confinement and social isolation. Along with them came measures to supply the necessary materials and equipment to face the epidemic, the adoption of a social plan to try to mitigate the negative effects of the stoppage on citizens, and compensation and stimulus measures for economic actors. After a huge financial effort, the quantity of material and sanitary equipment multiplied. Protective equipment for health professionals, such as masks and gloves, was purchased. There were large numbers of donations of ventilators and other equipment. Yes, we might have done some things wrong in this process, but the pandemic was something new to everybody and the demand for some of the sanitary goods required was high on the world market, and they were sometimes difficult and expensive to acquire. But the government was always transparent about this, just as, painful though it was, it decided to be straightforward in informing people about the numbers of infected people and of deaths. And it did so inform them with absolute transparency. So much so that sometimes the numbers were corrected upwards when new facts were discovered. We have counted not only people who have died in hospitals, but also those who have passed away in nursing homes, and even at home, not having had the chance to go to a hospital. We have shied away from the semantic dispute of whether they had died with coronavirus or of coronavirus. This has been a tragedy, and we have tried not to forget any of our citizens who have suffered or have passed away. They have all been counted as victims, our victims, of the pandemic. I think we can say, taking into account today s perspective, that it certainly was not a “failed response” considering that no hospitals have been saturated, the number of patients cured is higher than the newly infected ones, and pharmacies have had access to the medicines required. Many industrial companies, such as Seat, have halted their usual production and, with the collaboration of all their staff, have adapted their production lines to the mass manufacture of the necessary products to face the pandemic, such as masks, protective equipment for professionals in the healthcare sector, chemical products used for hygiene purposes, medications, respirators and so on. Also, a plan has been approved aiming to create a social and economic shield to limit the consequences of the economic slowdown and to lay the foundations for a fast and vigorous recovery while protecting, at the same time, the most vulnerable, families, workers and companies. EVOLUTION OF THE CRISIS: After more than a month and a half and despite the rapid increase in the number of infected people at the beginning of April, there are signs that we are stabilising the evolution of the epidemic. According to the health authorities, we have reached the peak of contagion. From 15 to 25 March, the average increase in those affected was 20 per cent. As of Sunday 26 April, and despite the heartbreaking death toll, the growth rate of those infected was 0.8 per cent, which confirms that the curve of contagion has been flattened thanks to the effectiveness of the measures adopted since 15 March. Last but not least, since 24 April the number of patients who have recovered per day (3,105) is higher than those who have been infected (2,796). The Spanish government just last week delivered to the Autonomous Community more than 750,000 rapid test kits for Covid-19, reaching three million units since the beginning of the crisis. SOCIAL MOBILISATION: In addition to the measures adopted by the authorities, the social reaction to the Covid-19 epidemic must also be highlighted. The first reaction of solidarity was the daily tribute of the Spanish population to the health professionals who were in “the front line of the battle” every day at 8:00 pm. Another form of solidarity has been the immediate offer of aid and donations made by large companies, SMEs, sports clubs such as Real Madrid or Barça, athletes, writers, singers and anonymous citizens to support the fight against the pandemic. An example of such solidarity and effectiveness is the Amancio Ortega Foundation, the founder of the Zara brand, which during the month of March donated a large amount of medical supplies, including 1,450 ventilators, three million test kits and three million masks. We should also not forget the role of the army, which has deployed 7,000 soldiers throughout the country. Members of the military have set up several field hospitals and have contributed to the construction, working against the clock, of a hospital in a convention centre near Madrid that was set up in 18 hours by the Military Emergency Unit (UME) with the help of dozens of volunteers.
When faced with an ever-changing and faceless adversary, how is public policy to respond? The pace at which the COVID-19 pandemic is developing continues to leave policy-makers struggling with this question. There exists more than just a deadly connection between the virus and the equally pervasive pollution that plagues our towns and cities, and devastates our natural habitats, on land and at sea. Beyond the countless deaths caused by both, clear lessons can be taken from this crisis and act as a guide now and in the future as we tackle others. Global pandemics, climate change and pollution may move in accordance with set patterns, but they cannot be contained by national frontiers. Any international response must look to include everyone, for any individual nation left behind creates a potential weak link for all. For this reason, we applaud the European Union s Green Deal for its scope, ambition and success in bringing on board the entire EU bloc. The wider Euro-Mediterranean area, with its own unique and acute challenges regarding health and the environment, must follow a similarly comprehensive model, whilst never forgetting that the asymmetry that exists between resource and capacity distributions will require different kinds of commitment from all players involved. Just as health professionals have led the fight against COVID-19 and epidemiological experts have influenced decision-making, this current pandemic must represent a new norm. Scientists and the research they conduct needs to be at the heart of policy development. They have already demonstrated the deadly link between pollution and COVID-19 that needs to be considered when we plan our response. Long-term exposure to harmful particulate matters caused by pollution, namely PM10 and PM2.5, leads to adverse outcomes amongst citizens with common respiratory diseases. COVID-19 has been proven to specifically trigger respiratory diseases putting these patients in one of the groups most at risk.Preliminary empirical evidence based on 3,000 recorded cases across Italy identified a significant correlation between long-term exposure to particulate matter and the spread of COVID-19 contagions and deaths. Similar evidence has been put forwardby a Harvard study on around 3,000 US counties. The Mediterranean is no exception andthe need for a regional approach is essential if it is to combine two of the lessons that have been reinforced during the current crisis: the importance of being united in both commitment and a reliance on scientifically driven solutions.Fortunately, progress here is already being made as the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) is providing the space and the forum to first agree and then act on the region s most pressing environmental priorities with integrated, long-term strategies. Warming 20% faster than the global average, according to the first-ever scientific report on the impact of Climate change in the Region developed by MedECC with the UfM support,the Euro-Mediterranean region has now also unfortunately become one of the epicentres of the COVID-19 outbreak. Around 94% of primary and secondary particulate matter emissions emanatefrom human activity and in particular from our choices regarding heating, transportation, energy sources, heavy industry and agricultural production.If we want to create resilient societies after the pandemic, we must attainstrong fiscal support for green investment – dematerialisation, digitalisation, energy efficiency – startingwiththe most severely hit and more polluted areas that are disproportionately home to the least affluent communities. Air pollution is estimated to cause around 7.2 million deaths per year, 1.6 million of which are from pneumonia. But these figures also reflect a cruel link between environmental degradation and injustice: about 90% of pollution-related deaths occur in regions with low or middle incomes. Just as COVID-19 has reminded us that our region is only as strong as its most defenceless citizens, our resolution to tack pollution must recognise the same.
In last week s column, I cautioned that in the face of the severe economic dislocation currently experienced by so many families across the United States, we could expect to see the emergence of a number of political and social movements. Shocks to the system always result in such reactions. Sometimes these will be spontaneous, while in other instances they are fomented. And sometimes they are inspired by what Abraham Lincoln called “our better angels,” while others are led by those who prey on the fear and anxiety created by the dislocation. We may have seen the beginning of one type of response this past week as right-wing media figures and organizations called for demonstrations in state capitals. They were demanding an end to the emergency lockdown measures that had been ordered to control the spread of the Coronavirus. The protesters carried signs decrying the lockdowns, playing on themes of freedom and individual rights: “You can t quarantine the Constitution;” “My rights don t end where your fear starts;” “My rights Trump your fear.” Signs supporting President Donald Trump and “Make America Great Again” were also prevalent. For his part, President Donald Trump encouraged these protests issuing, in rapid succession, a number of tweets reading “Liberate Minnesota,” “Liberate Michigan,” and then, ominously “Liberate Virginia, and save your great second Amendment. It is under siege” — targeting only states led by governors who are Democrats. This was a classic Trump and Republican tactic — shifting the blame to the “establishment” and decrying lost freedoms at the hands of those in government. In this instance, however, such an approach seemed ironic since Trump now heads the federal government, and he, himself, has issued orders promoting lockdowns. The President also took another page from his tried and true playbook by preying on his supporters fears and resentments. In just the past week, he incited against China (which he holds singularly responsible for the virus), Muslims (whom he suggested were being accorded special consideration not given to Christians and Jews), immigrants (whom he charged were taking jobs from Americans) and, of course, Democrats (who were accused of threatening individual freedoms). It appears, in all of this, that the president and his party want to repurpose the tactics they used with some success after the great recession of 2008-2009. Back then, they also incited against foreigners (focusing on immigrants, who the party claimed brought crime and stole jobs from citizens); Arabs and Muslims (who were said to be threatening American values and security); Blacks and Latinos (whom the GOP claimed were receiving unfair advantages) and the Democrats efforts to expand health care coverage (which they charged would place health care in the hands of big government bureaucrats). These tactics worked, creating the mass movement that ultimately gave rise to Trumpism. In the process, Republicans were able to turn many white middle-class voters, who felt ignored, betrayed, and anxious about their futures, into a base of support for economic policies that went against their own self-interest. During the last decade, while Republicans were spreading this divisive message of fear, Democrats failed to find an effective response. They did project high-minded slogans — “We re Stronger Together.” They advocated complicated policy goals — immigration reform focusing largely on the undocumented, and a trillion-dollar, job-creating infrastructure program. And they intensified and updated their fundraising and social media strategies. In all of this, they succeeded in energizing what had become the Democrats support base of minority, young, and educated women voters. But they failed to erode the support for Trump and Trumpism. In fact, the way Democrats went about approaching these issues may have served to exacerbate the national divide. Three examples are worth noting: During the entire debate over immigration reform, I pressed the White House and Democrats to expand the discussion to include immigrants from other regions of the world. For example, official tallies show that there are tens of thousands of Irish, Polish, and other Europeans who are undocumented. Why are they not, I asked, included in our discussion? My appeal fell on deaf ears and the issue continued to be presented as if only Latinos had a stake in addressing this concern. In 2014, following the Democratic Party s devastating losses in the November mid-term elections, the party s pollster made a presentation to a DNC executive committee meeting. His upbeat message was that, despite the losses, there was good news in that election because we maintained the support of the party s base — minority, young, and educated women voters — we just didn t win enough of them. The solution he proposed was to expend more resources to expand turnout amongst these “critical base vote groups.” When I asked what were we doing to reach white middle-class voters in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin — where we had lost significant support — he responded: “We aren t going to throw money away going after folks who aren t ever going to support us.” I replied that if that was to be our approach we were being as divisive as the Republicans. Reflecting this same mindset, recall Hilary Clinton s dismissive comment in which she referred to Trump supporters as “a basket of deplorables.” That expression provided Republicans with a hammer with which to pound home what they said was Clinton s elitism and contempt for the white middle class. We can see in the protests against the Coronavirus lockdowns the unfolding of a strategy that once again preys on the same fear and resentment. Those who are organizing these rallies know exactly what they are doing. And many of those who are demonstrating are most likely hardcore haters — the waving of Confederate flags and some of the signs and paraphernalia being distributed at these events make that clear. But they are only the vanguard — the messengers of a strategy designed to reach a larger audience of Americans who feel threatened by economic ruin, ignored by elites, and are frightened for their future. What is required is a counter-strategy that speaks to the “better angels” of all voters. It should be a message that is inclusive and respectful and speaks to every component group in society that is hurting. It should reflect an understanding of their hurt and even their anger at losing their jobs and the resentment they feel at living isolated from their families and friends. It should be as value-based and as challenging as Franklin Roosevelt during the Depression or Winston Churchill during World War II. It should be both explanatory and visionary, continuing to explain why the burdensome closures are needed and coupling this with a positive vision of the future, contrasting it with the dystopia that awaits us if these precautionary measures aren t sustained. And finally, this response should be both personal, and universal, identifying a victim or hero whose personal story can be elevated to a larger-than-life narrative that inspires hope, promotes empathy, and renews confidence in government. I firmly believe that those who are being preyed on with anger, fear, and resentment will respond to a message that speaks to them with concern for their families, empathy for others in need, and concern for the common good. But to win their support, they must be addressed with respect by messengers they can trust. It s a tall order to be sure — but the crisis in which we find ourselves and the expected reactionary response we see already unfolding before us demand more than just business as usual. While we can t set a timetable for when a vaccine and/or cure will be found, given the work of medical researchers, I feel certain that this will be done. What s not certain is the type of society and government we will have when this crisis is over. That is the challenge we face.
Watching President Donald Trump wrestle with this epic crisis reminds me of the old fable about the Scorpion and the Frog. You ll remember that the scorpion asks the frog for a ride across a river, only to sting the frog when they are midway across. When the startled frog asks why the scorpion would repay his kindness so cruelly and kill them both, the scorpion shrugs. "It s my nature." Trump could have made this unparalleled and agonizing trial for our country an occasion for personal triumph — if he were only able to take the personal out of it. But that is not his nature. This moment of extraordinary pain and crisis calls for steadiness and sobriety; empathy for the widespread pain and suffering of others; absolute transparency; a willingness to listen and learn; and rigorous, disciplined attention to detail. None of these qualities are within his nature. Many governors across America have enhanced their popularity simply by doing their jobs during this deadly outbreak of the coronavirus. Even in a polarized nation, it might have been the same for Trump if, from the start, he had leveled with the country about the nature of the threat, followed expert advice and made the case for the painful and decisive steps required to save lives. But that s not his nature. Instead, the President spent six weeks dismissing the threat and offering false assurances as public health experts frantically warned what was to come. Trump ostensibly feared that an acknowledgment of the severity of the virus and the draconian steps required to protect Americans would tank the stock market and the economy, which he had hoped to make the springboard to his re-election. So he insisted on an alternative storyline. At the end of January, the President issued what we now know was a porous ban on travel from China, assuring that this would protect the nation against the invasion of what he later branded the "Chinese virus." US cases would not surpass 15, he said in February, even as some public health experts warned of a potential pandemic. "Miraculously," he suggested with a flourish, the virus could just fade away with a change in the weather. As Covid-19 had begun its deadly march across the nation, Trump was accusing Democrats and the media of politicizing the disease in what amounted to a Coronavirus "hoax" to damage him. While some governors were mobilizing against the threat, the President sent the nation and federal bureaucracy the opposite signal, delaying the necessary steps, which cost the nation valuable time to gird for the battle and deepened the crisis. Since the day he finally recalibrated, appearing at the podium in the White House briefing room in March to declare war on Covid-19, the President has spent most of his briefing time spinning his administration s uneven and tardy response (which he rated a 10 out of 10) rather than giving the American people the sober and accurate assessment they need. He has denied making dismissive statements about the virus which the entire world heard and has refused to acknowledge where he and his administration have fallen short. Truth and accountability are not his nature. Americans of all stripes are bound together by a common calamity, hungry for a unifying leader who will rise above partisanship. But that is not Trump s nature. He has suggested that governors, desperately asking the federal government for more testing supplies, were acting out of political motivation. Trump is who Trump has been from the beginning of his long career in the public eye: a super narcissist and shameless self-promoter, unwilling to accept responsibility or the truth and unable to think about anyone but himself. If he had been more in this historic moment, it would have done so much to strengthen his brand and his prospects of reelection -- not to mention comfort his wounded country. But it is no surprise that he could not. It s just not his nature.
Some 4.5 billion people around the world are still living in either partial or complete lockdown, or in self-isolation in the framework of governmental efforts to contain the global coronavirus pandemic. Governments have been fully-mobilised to reach this challenging goal, though the German government announced Friday, 17 April, that it had successfully brought the pandemic under control after the numbers of those infected is less than those cured of Covid-19. In other European countries that have been heavily affected by the pandemic, like Italy and France for example, it seems that the curve will be flattened very soon, if it has not already reached this stage. Denmark decided to resume schools and other commercial activities gradually while remaining vigilant. On the other side of the Atlantic, the US administration of President Donald Trump opted for an early resumption of work, leaving it to state governors to make the decision according to the prevailing situation in each affected state. Initially, President Trump, in one of his daily briefings, said that he is the one who has the authority to decree a return to normal life; however, this claim was widely disputed. The US president had to make a U-turn under pressure from both Democrats and Republicans. The politics of fighting the coronavirus, nationally and internationally, has become a serious challenge in its own right — a situation that has hampered, so far, a concerted international effort to formulate a common action plan to deal with the virus. In countries that will go to the polls sometime this year, like the United States that will see presidential and congressional elections, the politics of the fight against the pandemic has had two results. The first is the political manipulation of national efforts to bring the pandemic under control, and the second is the exacerbation of political divisions. The United States is a case in point. Both congressional Republicans and Democrats have not succeeded to pass a second financial rescue plan for small businesses which were allotted $250 billion in the CARES law. On the other hand, President Trump, in a highly problematic appeal, asked his followers to “liberate” three states — Minnesota, Michigan and Virginia — from their respective governors, who are all Democrats. Democrats accused him of fomenting a “civil war” in America. In response, he doubled down on his unprecedented demand. Some pundits offered an explanation for such a grave appeal. With 22 million Americans filing for unemployment benefits, the US president is afraid to lose the November elections to the candidate of the Democrats, most likely former vice president Joe Biden. So, he is pulling all the stops to have a good chance of re-election. Not only national politics has fallen hostage to the virus but also international relations, too. A case in point is rising tensions between the United States and some Western countries and China, that stands accused of wilfully manipulating official information concerning the extent of the pandemic, and the numbers of those affected and those who died because of Covid-19. The Central Intelligence Agency is investigating the matter and the cause of the coronavirus. The late announcement by Chinese authorities on Friday, 17 April, that there had been a number of virus-related deaths that were not reported immediately, has given ammunition to Western leaders who have accused China of being responsible for the pandemic and of not sharing information in a transparent way. President Trump is one of those leaders who has gone as far as accusing the World Health Organisation of collusion with the Chinese government. Of course, Beijing insists that it shared with the world all information concerning the coronavirus as hit the country. These differences among two permanent members on the UN Security Council have impeded international efforts to pass a resolution by the council on the coronavirus. This paralysis has demonstrated the lack of political will within the council to overcome any differences of opinion as to the origin of the virus in order to formulate guidelines to fight the pandemic, and earmark enough funds to help the international economy and trade navigate successfully this situation, unprecedented since the Great Depression of 1929. Henry Kissinger, former US secretary of state and former national security adviser under the Nixon and Ford administrations, predicted that generations to come will pay the price of this pandemic. This is, probably, the reason why the world badly needs an international mobilisation to coordinate policies and raise enough financial resources to help the most affected countries to cope with the catastrophic financial cost of fighting coronavirus. In the last few days, international officials have warned that Africa could be the next place where the pandemic will ravage many poor communities and countries. They estimate that African countries will need billions of dollars to deal with the coronavirus. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have jointly earmarked the sum of $52 billion for Africa, a quarter of what is needed. On the other hand, G-20 member countries have agreed on a deferment plan for the poorest countries which are heavily indebted. The foreign debts of the emerging and developing countries stand at $11 billion, and the interests due on this staggering amount of debt is $3 billion for 2020/2021. Given these figures the question of debt forgiveness should be looked into with the hope that creditor countries and international economic and financial institutions could come up with an ambitious and far-sighted plan in this regard. If not complete forgiveness, then partial, that would cover half the foreign debts incurred by developing countries, particularly the poorest amongst them, could cushion not only the indebted governments from insecurity and instability, but also the international system as a whole. In a belated move, 13 countries released a joint statement Saturday, 18 April, in which they stated, “it is vital that we work together to save lives and livelihoods”. The group committed to coordinate with other countries on “public health, travel, trade, economic and financial measures in order to minimise disruptions” and “to recover stronger”. The group includes Britain, France, Indonesia, Mexico, Morocco, Peru, South Korea, Turkey, Canada, Brazil, Italy, Singapore and Germany. The group of 13 emphasised the need for global cooperation to ease the economic impact of the coronavirus. This is a statement of political will to cooperate in order to mitigate the destabilising consequences of the pandemic. However, it lacks specifics, which is the most important part.
At no time should the United Kingdom regret Brexit as its two largest trading partners, the European Union and the United States, are courting her and stand ready to take thee for better or for worse. The truth is that the EU will never leave the UK in the wilderness. The former is even willing against all odds and contrary to the conviction of Boris Johnson to extend the 2020 deadline on withdrawal negotiations for an extra two-year period. The Trump administration makes similar courteous attempts to lure the UK in sealing a free trade agreement, as it believes the UK could serve as gateway to Europe. Today, the UK is in a challenging situation having to choose between the two giants. Failure to reach an agreement with the European Union will have far-reaching negative repercussions on the British economy, as nearly 50 per cent of UK exports go to European markets, which makes reaching a preferential agreement with the EU indispensable. On a different note, the UK does not hide its interest to conclude a comprehensive free trade agreement with the US, because this means an open market for its goods and services also to Canada and Mexico, which form with the US a broad free trade agreement (USMCA). Furthermore, in light of the outbreak of the trade war between the US and China in the summer of 2018, Mexico is about to become a potential alternative to China and a likely destination for American companies. The UK s attachment to the US camp means its assimilation into new production chains to compensate potential losses in European value chains. It is not easy for the UK to win over both of these partners, as they are often in stark contrast to one another. The sharp disparities and inconsistencies between the EU and the US will force the UK eventually to choose one over the other. The two differ in laws, standards and rules, which are even in some instances inconsistent with one another. Trade disputes between the two giants are multiple in front of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) dispute mechanism. The latest of these conflicts started recently by France aimed at imposing a tax on the profits of giant technology companies like Google and Amazon. Such an attempt forced the US into threatening to retaliate in turn by imposing high tariffs on French wines. Moreover, the two differ in the levels of protecting the privacy of Internet users and personal data. As it is becoming more conservative, the EU raises the echelon of protection. This will force companies focused on personal data, such as Google and Facebook, to change their business models in the future, a trajectory they dread taking. These problems and others are minor when juxtaposed with the problem of genetically modified food. While the European consumer continues to refuse to import or market such foods, the US does not distinguish between the quality of genetically modified and unmodified food, as the former is widely distributed on the shelves of American supermarkets. The US considers the rejection of the EU — based on the precautionary principle — as an unjustified barrier without scientific evidence. The precautionary principle is inconsistent with the rules of the WTO, which stipulates the use of technical rules based on valid scientific evidence and not based on the principle of precaution. Given the UK s need for both trading partners, the challenge to the British prime minister in manoeuvering between the EU and the US is formidable. He must prove his ability to obtain the best deal from both partners, which is not easy. If together with the EU he agrees to extend the withdrawal negotiation period to secure a balanced deal, this will hinder the conclusion of an FTA with the US, which means the UK will lose the balancing “Trump card” to mitigate the repercussions of its exit from the EU and the ensuing possible disadvantages. Furthermore, the EU will stand in the face of any manipulation by the UK prime minister and will not tolerate his endeavours to converge with the US at the expense of the union and its member states. Alternatively, while the UK is attracting the interest of both giants as well as many others, having signed to date over 40 free trade agreements, Egypt seems indifferent to the UK s potentials as a self-determining and autonomous state. While this seems understandable today, as countries turn their full attention to fighting Covid-19, Egypt is not among the first countries to have signed an FTA with the UK when the time was more propitious and the UK approached Egypt to sign an agreement. The agreements between the UK and its partners aim at maintaining preferential treatment and ensure smooth sailing and continuity of trade relations. While grappling with its agreement with the EU, the UK cannot alter, in the transitional phase, the terms of the agreements with its partners from the ones applied within the EU. This will only be possible after the transitional period expires, whether in a year or three, if extended after January 2021. The million-dollar question is why Egypt should be interested in signing swiftly an agreement with the UK. British investments in Egypt total around $5.4 billion, which represents 41 per cent of total foreign direct investment inflows, meaning the UK ranks first globally in terms of FDI in Egypt. Furthermore, trade exchange between Egypt and the UK stands at over $3 billion yearly, facilitated largely by the EU Association Agreement with Egypt. If Egypt does not sign an agreement with the UK, WTO regulations will apply, granting Egypt the treatment of a most favoured nation. Egypt will lose its preferential treatment and will have to pay tariffs on its exports to the UK. Acknowledging mutually beneficial relations between the two countries, Egypt and the UK must expedite the signing and ratification of an FTA, if the former wants to extract the maximum benefit from its relation with the UK and ensure continuity of trade between the two countries on the same preferential grounds prevailing between Egypt and the EU. Today s agreement with the UK will be confined to trade in goods; however, we must anticipate in light of the increasing importance of trade in services that we will eventually negotiate a full-fledged agreement after the transitional period. It is of utmost importance to start promptly closer cooperation with the UK to boost our services sector, thus enabling us to enter African markets from a position of strength within the framework of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA). Egypt should follow the lead of other African countries, which were unhesitant to sign FTAs with the UK, such as Morocco and South Africa, to lay the groundwork for trilateral cooperation between Egypt, the UK and Africa. This falls jointly within the scope of the two governments policies towards Africa. The UK can be instrumental in supporting and developing the necessary infrastructure for manufacturers and investors. Egypt should lure British manufactures to cooperate with it to penetrate new African markets and compensate for the possible loss of EU markets. Egypt should attract the UK as a leading economy after Brexit, so that the UK continues to invest in Egypt and accedes jointly in African markets, in order to benefit from AfCFTA.
The announcement by credit rating agencies Standard & Poor s (S&P) and Moody s of maintaining Egypt s outlook at stable, keeping their ratings unchanged, could not have come at a more opportune time. As Minister of Finance Mohamed Maait said earlier this week, the credit rating reflects the confidence of international institutions and credit rating firms in Egypt s ability to deal adequately with the Covid-19 crisis. It goes to show, like the minister said, that the economic, monetary and fiscal reforms adopted since November 2016 helped strengthen the economy to cope with internal and external shocks. Economists agree: if it had not been for the role of reforms in stabilising the economy, things could have been much worse. All indices are looking good. Unemployment fell to 7.5 per cent, its lowest level in 30 years, in the second quarter of 2019 compared with 13 per cent six years ago. Foreign reserves recorded more than $45 billion compared to $17 billion three years ago. The country s budget deficit came in at 8.2 per cent of GDP for fiscal year 2018-19, compared to 10.9 per cent in 2016-17 and 12.5 per cent the previous year. Egypt welcomed 13.1 million tourist arrivals in 2019, and revenues from the sector grew to $13.3 billion, compared to $11.6 billion in 2018. According to the minister of tourism and antiquities, the number of tourists who visited Egypt in January and February this year was the highest in the history of tourism in Egypt. This indicated that 2020 would have been very promising for the country s tourism industry. The devastating effect of the global lockdown and social distancing measures could have far reaching repercussions on the economy. Remittances, which represent 10 per cent of GDP, are expected to be affected by the drop in oil prices and employee dismissals. Tourism, which makes up five per cent of GDP, has ground to a halt. And the slowdown in global trade will reflect on Suez Canal revenues. But although the government is aware that the virus is a threat to gains made throughout the past three years, it is not dwelling and is acting proactively to contain its effects. The rolling out of measures to help those most affected and easing the burden on industries are part of a comprehensive stimulus package to boost the economy in times of crisis. S&P, which has affirmed its “B/B” long- and short-term foreign and local currency sovereign credit ratings for Egypt, said the stable outlook reflects its expectation that the fall in Egypt s GDP growth will be temporary, and the rise in external and fiscal imbalances will remain contained. It also said it expected external and government debt metrics to gradually decline from 2022. Moody s has kept Egypt s credit rating at B2 with a stable outlook. It said that ongoing fiscal and economic reforms will support gradual but steady improvement in Egypt s fiscal metrics and raise real GDP growth. The ratings are reassuring to investors, especially at a time when growth forecasts are being slashed. The International Monetary Fund has calculated a two per cent GDP growth in fiscal year 2020 and only a slightly higher 2.8 per cent for the following year. And despite these forecasts being a far cry from the 5.6 per cent expected in the current fiscal year, Egypt remains much better off than the negative forecasts for most of the Middle East and North Africa oil importers, as per IMF figures. While the exact impact will depend on the duration of the crisis and when the virus can be contained, the government is doing the right thing in prioritising human life, regardless of the cost. As the IMF said in its April 2020 Regional Economic Outlook report, “In the current circumstances, the immediate priority should indeed be to save lives, protect the most vulnerable and safeguard critical economic sectors, including through outright support to the financial sector, as needed. Fiscal policy should accommodate urgent spending needs, particularly to support emergency services and enhance healthcare infrastructures.”
Mina M. Azer
As we know the Egyptian people, I am so worried with the easing procedures and curfew that we will start after the end of the holy month of Ramadan. It should be noted that there are Egyptian doctors who were infected with Coronavirus while taking the best precautionary measures, and were even killed by it. Yet, the Egyptians can t follow all measures because of financial and cultural reasons. As the banks now