Egypt arrests author, publisher over book on economy

In this March 19, 2018 file photo, an election billboard for Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, with Arabic that reads, "you are the hope," hangs in Cairo, Egypt. (AP)
Updated 23 October 2018
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Egypt arrests author, publisher over book on economy

  • The author and the publisher are accused of spreading “fake news”
  • Authorities seized 185 copies of an initial 200-copy run, which had not yet been distributed

CAIRO: Egypt has arrested an economist and his publisher over a book that challenged President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi’s economic policies, a lawyer said Tuesday, the latest in a wave of detentions in recent years targeting all forms of dissent.
Prize-winning economist Abdel-Khaleq Farouq and his publisher, Ibrahim el-Khateib, were detained Sunday. Mohammed Abdel-Aziz, a lawyer for the author, said the two are accused of spreading “fake news,” which carries a maximum penalty of three years in prison.
The book — entitled “Is Egypt Really a Poor Country?” — was posted online by activists. Authorities seized 185 copies of an initial 200-copy run, which had not yet been distributed.
The book contains scathing criticism of El-Sisi’s economic policies, accusing the general-turned-president of lacking the vision needed to remedy Egypt’s economic woes.
Farouq blames the country’s poor economy on what he calls the military’s monopoly of power since 1952, when officers toppled the monarchy.
The book’s thesis is primarily a repudiation of an assertion made by El-Sisi that Egypt was a poor country that could no longer afford costly state subsidies on key commodities and services, for decades a cornerstone of state policy to help the poor make ends meet.
In the book’s introduction, the author claims that El-Sisi’s assertion on Egypt’s poverty “exposed blatant ignorance of the realistic and untapped capabilities in Egypt’s economy and society and the lack of vision capable of exploiting these abilities and potential.”
Egypt has waged an unprecedented crackdown on dissent since El-Sisi led the military overthrow of an elected but divisive Islamist president in 2013. Thousands of people have been jailed, mainly Islamists but also several prominent secular activists.
The government has banned all unauthorized street protests and has blocked hundreds of websites, including some run by independent media and human rights groups.
First elected to office in 2014 and now serving a second, four-year term, El-Sisi has made the economy the focus of his rule, with a hands-on drive for fiscal reform, improving infrastructure and the construction of new cities. In exchange for a $12 billion IMF loan secured in 2016, he ordered steep hikes in the price of fuel, government services and utilities. The measures fed popular discontent but did not spark significant unrest.
Egypt’s parliament is packed with El-Sisi’s supporters, and his Cabinet is entirely made up of loyalists, which means that the president’s policies are never effectively challenged. He has on occasion bristled at criticism of his policies, once angrily yelling at a lawmaker who suggested postponing the lifting of state subsidies and on another occasion telling Egyptians to only listen to him.
In a televised address earlier this month, the 63-year-old El-Sisi boasted that he has for 55 years been closely monitoring “every detail, every part and every circumstance” in Egypt. His accumulated knowledge of the country, he said, has given him the will to take difficult decisions.
In the same address, he said Egypt would never realize its aspirations if the state continues to subsidize goods and services. If the rapid growth of the population — which has doubled to 100 million over the last 30 years — is not checked, then there will be no “realistic hope” for economic improvement, El-Sisi warned. “Can a nation prosper while facing such a challenge? How?“
Farouq’s book, according to the text published online, offers suggestions for improving the economy based in large part on fighting graft and waste as well as tax and administrative reforms.


US may soon pause preparations for delivering F-35s to Turkey

Updated 20 min 6 sec ago
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US may soon pause preparations for delivering F-35s to Turkey

WASHINGTON: The US could soon freeze preparations for delivering F-35 fighter jets to Turkey, officials told Reuters, in what would be the strongest signal yet by Washington that Ankara cannot have both the advanced aircraft and Russia’s S-400 air defense system.
The US is nearing an inflection point in a years-long standoff with Turkey, a NATO ally, after so far failing to sway President Tayyip Erdogan that buying a Russian air defense system would compromise the security of F-35 aircraft.
“The S-400 is a computer. The F-35 is a computer. You don’t hook your computer to your adversary’s computer and that’s basically what we would be doing,” Katie Wheelbarger, acting assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, told Reuters.
While no decision has been made yet, US officials confirmed that Washington was considering halting steps now underway to ready Turkey to receive the F-35, which is built by Lockheed Martin Corp.
“There (are) decisions that come up constantly about things being delivered in anticipation of them eventually taking custody of the planes,” said Wheelbarger. “So there’s a lot of things in train that can be paused to send signals to them (that we’re serious),” she added.
However, another US official said one of the measures the US was looking at was alternatives to an engine depot in Turkey, without giving more details. The official said any potential alternatives would likely be somewhere in Western Europe. Turkey is home to an F-35 engine overhaul depot in the western city of Eskisehir.
If Turkey was removed from the F-35 program, it would be the most serious crisis in the relationship between the two allies in decades, according to Bulent Aliriza, director of the Turkey project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“This (the F-35 standoff) is really a symptom, not a cause of the problem between the two countries,” Aliriza said.
Many US officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, worry that Turkey is drifting away from NATO and watch improving relations between Ankara and Moscow with concern. The prospect of Russian contractors or officials on Turkish bases that also are home to the F-35 is unfathomable to many US officials.
The tensions could further escalate. If Ankara goes ahead with the Russian deal, Turkey also could face US sanctions.
Despite US hopes that Turkey may still forgo the S-400, experts say Erdogan may have already backed himself into a rhetorical corner. He has repeatedly said he would not reverse course on the S-400, saying earlier in March: “Nobody should ask us to lick up what we spat.”
A decision to drop Turkey from the F-35 program would have broader repercussions, since Ankara helps manufacture parts for the aircraft, including components of the landing gear, cockpit displays and aircraft engines.