How Egypt turned the page with a comeback on the regional stage

How Egypt turned the page with a comeback on the regional stage
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General view of vehicles stuck in a traffic jam amidst street vendors in the central Attaba district of Egypt’s capital Cairo on This picture taken on Feb. 22, 2021. (File/AFP)
How Egypt turned the page with a comeback on the regional stage
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Nabil Fahmy, Egypt’s former foreign minister, speaks on the fringes of the World Policy Conference in Abu Dhabi. (Supplied)
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Updated 25 October 2021

How Egypt turned the page with a comeback on the regional stage

How Egypt turned the page with a comeback on the regional stage
  • Egypt is emerging from a decade of upheaval that began with the overthrow of Mubarak
  • From Libya to Arab-Israeli peace, Cairo is reasserting its authority on the regional stage

BOGOTA/ABU DHABI: Egypt has experienced a decade of upheaval since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in 2011, contending with two revolutions, environmental pressures, and more recently the economic challenges of COVID-19.

And yet, this most populous of Arab countries, straddling the African and Asian continents, has emerged from the turbulence with a new sense of purpose and a desire for greater engagement with the region and the world.

It has been announced that Egypt is a nominee to host the COP27 UN climate conference for 2022 — a distinction that seemed unthinkable just a few years ago.

This October not only marks the 48th anniversary of the 1973 war with Israel; 40 years ago on October 6, President Anwar Sadat was assassinated by Islamist extremists during the annual victory parade in Cairo.

For many in the Middle East, Sadat’s positive legacy is a work in progress: The Egypt-Israel peace process, Egyptian economic development and political liberalization, the Palestinian peace process, and overcoming the challenge of violent extremism.

“What I have seen recently, in this last year in particular, is that Egypt is much more engaged in trying to determine movement on regional issues,” Nabil Fahmy, former Egyptian foreign minister, said during a discussion at the World Policy Conference held earlier in October in Abu Dhabi.

“Egypt faced a couple of hurdles. But (look at) the strength of its system. I doubt very few countries in the region, and some abroad, frankly, could have survived two revolutions in three years and come out standing.”

The latest economic forecasts show that Egypt is now entering the recovery phase following the blows of the COVID-19 pandemic. “There’s clear evidence of economic progress,” Fahmy said. “Even post-pandemic we’re looking at 4 to 5 percent growth this coming year, which is significant.”

His observations were echoed by Egyptian politician and academic Mona Makram-Ebeid at the same conference.

“Now there is a ray of hope emerging and it comes in the form of natural gas discovery, with a potential to boost Egypt’s limping economy and build a new commercial alliance with eastern Mediterranean countries and Israel.

“Egypt struck the jackpot in 2015 with the discovery of a giant reservoir known as Zohr, which has developed into one of the largest single gas fields in the Middle East.”

To date, Zohr is the biggest gas field discovered in the Mediterranean region, with nearly 30 trillion cubic feet of reserves. The field — which is operated by Italian Eni — started production in December 2017.

From all accounts, there has been marked progress in more than just the economic field. Egypt is also making strides in institutional reform, bolstering the rule of law and addressing international concerns over its rights record.

“Just three weeks ago, we issued a new human rights doctrine,” Fahmy said. “It’s not perfect. Human rights doctrines and applications anywhere in the world are not perfect. But it’s tremendous progress. And it’s a reflection that we want to move forward.




People shop from a stall selling Ramadan lanterns along a main street in the in the northern suburb of Shubra (home to a large Christian population) of Egypt’s capital Cairo on April 12, 2021, at the start of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan. (File/AFP)

“Short term, it’s going to be a challenge. Medium term, I’m much more confident. But, as Egyptians, given our weight, given the role we have to play, I also want us to be able to look long term and engage with our neighbors.”

Makram-Ebeid praised the new doctrine, saying that it would have a positive impact on several aspects of Egyptian life.

“It will give access to job opportunities, education, healthcare and religious freedoms,” she said.

Egypt’s latest decade of upheaval began on Jan. 25, 2011, when thousands of protesters spilled onto the streets of Cairo to demand change. Aggressive police tactics to quell the protests culminated in calls for Mubarak’s removal.




Egyptian demonstrators tear a portrait of President Hosni Mubarak during a protest against his rule in the northern port city of Alexandria on Jan. 25, 2011. (File/AFP)

When he was finally toppled from power, young Egyptians felt their moment had come to create a fairer society. In reality, it was only the beginning of a fresh period of discontent and uncertainty. The country was rocked by new economic calamities and the rise to power of Mohamed Morsi — an Islamist politician affiliated with the now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.

The “second Egyptian revolution” came in 2013, a year after Morsi’s inauguration. The resumption of street protests that summer saw Morsi forced from office and the Muslim Brotherhood designated as a terrorist organization.

The following year, Morsi’s defense minister, Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, won the presidential election and was sworn into office.

“The basic challenge between the Muslim Brotherhood and the rest of the Egyptian system was about our identity,” Fahmy told the WPC event.

“Are we Egyptians including some Muslim Brotherhood, or are we the Muslim Brotherhood that has some Egyptians? That’s an existential threat and that’s why the clash happened quickly. Not only political influencers, but also the middle class were actually against the form of government that was being formed by the Muslim Brotherhood when they came into power.”




Egypt’s deposed Islamist president Mohamed Morsi sists behind the defendants cage during a trial at the police academy court in Cairo on Nov. 5, 2014. (File/AFP)

The Brotherhood was founded in 1928 in Egypt by Hassan Al-Banna, and later spread throughout the Middle East into Sudan, Syria, Palestine and Lebanon and across North Africa, where its affiliates have had varying degrees of success.

“The Muslim Brotherhood was born in Egypt, so there will be some trends in Egypt. But the reality is, if you try to build for the future, then our youth want to be engaged in the world,” Fahmy said.

“A dogmatic ideology doesn’t fit Egypt. We need to engage with the world, and I think that ideology is a threat to modernity.

“The influence of the Brotherhood today in Egypt is highly diminished and the government, currently — whether one agrees or disagrees with some details of policy is irrelevant — is an activist government trying to respond to the basic, immediate needs of the people.”

Egypt’s greater emphasis on regional and global engagement has been evident in recent months. Besides recent talks with senior Iraqi and Syrian officials, Egypt has also made diplomatic headway with its rivals. “We have engaged in a dialogue with Turkey,” Fahmy said. “It’s slow, (so) don’t be overly optimistic.”

One diplomatic front where Egypt has made noteworthy progress in the last year is Libya, which in the past decade has become a haven for human smugglers and religious extremists.

During the same revolutionary wave that overthrew Mubarak, the Libyan people rose up against their long-time ruler Muammar Gaddafi. However, a decade on from his downfall, the oil-rich country remains mired in chaos and political gridlock.

Since the two countries share a porous desert border, the extremists based in Libya have, time and again, succeeded in carrying out attacks against Egyptian security forces and Christians.

In recent months, Egypt has engaged with Libya’s feuding parties to ensure that national elections are held in December as scheduled. Cairo believes a fair and transparent election will help put its war-torn neighbor on the path to stability and recovery.

Fahmy says there has been good progress on the Libya issue, but he doubts the elections scheduled for Dec. 24 by the country’s recently installed Government of National Unity will go ahead as planned. “I would love to be proven wrong,” he said.

Fahmy is well regarded after his years as a career diplomat and academic. He is the founding dean of the School of Global Affairs and Public Policy and Distinguished University Professor of Practice in International Diplomacy at the American University in Cairo. He has dedicated many years of study to Arab-Israeli diplomacy, making him a leading authority on the peace process.

Last summer, the UAE became the first Arab country to sign the Abraham Accords, a series of US-brokered diplomatic agreements inked between Israel and Arab states. The Aug. 13, 2020 signing marked the first time an Arab country had publicly established relations with Israel since Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994.




Egyptian President Anwar Al-Sadat (L), Israeli Premier Menachem Begin (R) and US President Jimmy Carter (C) shake hands after a press conference in the East Room of the White House, on Sept. 17, 1978. (File/AFP)

Although the agreements have shown potential, critics say they have done little to bring the Palestinians any closer to statehood. And while several governments have embraced the accords, the normalization of ties with Israel has been harder to sell to Arab publics.

“You can’t overemphasize that the Palestinian issue, per se, is a very emotional issue throughout the Arab world and therefore reactions to it tend to be very strong in either way,” Fahmy said.

“My point is the following — and I have said this to my Palestinian colleagues — I understand your concern, I understand your fear, but focus on building your case rather than on criticizing somebody. Because, in the case of those who signed the accords, even if we don’t agree with them, they have all committed to helping establish and support a Palestinian state.

“So, my recommendation to Arabs: Be a bit sensitive in the steps you take. You will have to face that this is sensitive, you will get some criticism.

“I would tell my Arab colleagues, I would tell the Palestinians, come up with ideas on how to move forward politically, and don’t let the political process die.”




Mona Makram Abed with President El-Sisi, Dec. 4 2016. (Facebook)

Given Egypt’s renewed assertiveness on the regional stage, Fahmy hopes other Arab countries will follow Egypt’s lead and come to the negotiating table to speak frankly about the way forward. “Arabs are lovely in their ability to agree. Our problem is our inability to disagree,” he said.

“Let me seize this occasion to call on Egypt and the Arab countries: We should all speak much more about our vision for the future, for the region, and what we want to see for the Middle East as a whole in concrete terms.

“We don’t have to agree, but we need to engage in a dialogue and let’s see how much agreement and how much disagreement we have. Because allowing others to set the agenda is very dangerous.”


Explosions heard inside US base in eastern Homs near Iraqi border — Syrian state TV

Explosions heard inside US base in eastern Homs near Iraqi border — Syrian state TV
Updated 8 sec ago

Explosions heard inside US base in eastern Homs near Iraqi border — Syrian state TV

Explosions heard inside US base in eastern Homs near Iraqi border — Syrian state TV
DUBAI: Syrian state television reported on Sunday that multiple explosions had been heard inside the US base in the Al-Tanf region in eastern Homs, near the Iraqi border.

Grand Imam of Al-Azhar in Vatican meeting to discuss Document on Human Fraternity

Grand Imam of Al-Azhar in Vatican meeting to discuss Document on Human Fraternity
Updated 17 min 49 sec ago

Grand Imam of Al-Azhar in Vatican meeting to discuss Document on Human Fraternity

Grand Imam of Al-Azhar in Vatican meeting to discuss Document on Human Fraternity
  • The two discussed their vision of what the relationship between followers of religions should be
  • Last month, Sheikh Al-Tayeb met Pope Francis on the sidelines of the Religious Leaders on Climate Change summit

Cairo: Ahmed Al-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, held a meeting in the Vatican with Cardinal Miguel Angel Ayuso, President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, to discuss how to implement the provisions of the Document on Human fraternity for World Peace and Living Together.

This joint statement, which was signed by Pope Francis of the Catholic Church and Sheikh Al-Tayeb on Feb. 4, 2019, in Abu Dhabi, includes various proposed solutions from a religious standpoint to the current problems facing the world.

During the meeting Sheikh Al-Tayeb said that “the relationship of Al-Azhar and the Vatican remains an effective and real model for spreading tolerance and peace and combating extremism, hatred, wars and conflicts, and that the path of peace and dialogue is a difficult path, but the path is moving and making efforts,” adding that the world is in urgent need of the values of brotherhood, peaceful coexistence and respect for the other.

He stressed that religious leaders and scholars have a religious and societal duty to confront negative phenomena, especially with regard to moral aspects.

The two discussed their vision of what the relationship between followers of religions should be, and the role that religions should play in our contemporary world. The document seeks to activate dialogue about coexistence among human beings.

Ayuso said that the Grand Imam and His Holiness Pope Francis had the courage to fight battles for the good of humanity, and that the signing of the Document on Human Fraternity was not an easy thing.

But their persistence and sincerity helped to break barriers and repair broken bridges between some Muslims and Christians, and continued the dialogue between Al-Azhar and the Vatican after a rupture of nearly six years. They said they had begun to reap the fruits of this document in a rapprochement not only at the level of official institutions and institutes, but also between individuals among the wider masses.

Ayuso spoke about the great efforts of the Higher Committee for Human Fraternity that emerged from the document, noting that this committee includes religious and cultural leaders from different ethnic, social and cultural backgrounds around the world.

He said that even in their diversity the members of the committee represent a group of friends loyal to their humanity, united by their concern to work for mankind and end its suffering. They seek to replace hatred with love and intolerance with dialogue, especially between young people, to ensure healthy relations and a better future for coming generations.

Last month, Sheikh Al-Tayeb met Pope Francis on the sidelines of the Religious Leaders on Climate Change summit, where they said that returning to the teachings of religions is the way to save the world from extremism and division.


Israel urges hard line against Iran at nuclear talks

Israel urges hard line against Iran at nuclear talks
Updated 05 December 2021

Israel urges hard line against Iran at nuclear talks

Israel urges hard line against Iran at nuclear talks
  • Israel has been watching with concern as world powers sit down with Iran to jump-start talks on the tattered nuclear deal
  • Talks in Vienna aimed at re-imposing curbs on Iran’s nuclear program restarted last week after a more than five-month hiatus

TEL AVIV: Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Sunday urged world powers to take a hard line against Iran in negotiations to curb the country’s nuclear program, as his top defense and intelligence officials headed to Washington amid the flailing talks.
Israel has been watching with concern as world powers sit down with Iran to jump-start talks on the tattered nuclear deal. Iran last week struck its own hard line as talks resumed in Vienna, suggesting everything discussed in previous rounds of diplomacy could be renegotiated. Iran also isn’t slowing down the advances in its atomic program, further raising the stakes in the talks, which are crucial to cooling years of tensions boiling in the wider Mideast.
Talks in Vienna aimed at re-imposing curbs on Iran’s nuclear program restarted last week after a more than five-month hiatus.
Israel has long opposed the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, saying it didn’t go far enough to halt the country’s nuclear program and doesn’t address Iran’s military involvement in countries bordering Israel.
“I call on every country negotiating with Iran in Vienna to take a strong line and make it clear to Iran that they cannot enrich uranium and negotiate at the same time,” Bennett told a meeting of his Cabinet. “Iran must begin to pay a price for its violations.”
Israel is not a party to the negotiations but it has made a point of keeping up lines of communication with its European and American allies during the talks, which are set to resume this week.
Israeli spy chief David Barnea headed to Washington late Saturday on a previously unannounced trip and Defense Minister Benny Gantz leaves Wednesday for meetings with his US counterpart Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Foreign Minister Yair Lapid was in London and Paris last week to discuss the talks with Israel’s European allies.


Jordan jails hospital chief over Covid deaths

Jordan jails hospital chief over Covid deaths
Updated 05 December 2021

Jordan jails hospital chief over Covid deaths

Jordan jails hospital chief over Covid deaths

AMMAN: A Jordanian court on Sunday sentenced to three years in jail the director of a state hospital over the deaths of 10 patients at the facility which treated coronavirus patients.

Abdel Razak al-Khashman and four aides were convicted of "causing the deaths" at the Salt state hospital where the patients died after it ran out of oxygen.

The verdict can be appealed within 10 days. 

The deaths in March sparked public anger in Jordan and led to the resignation of health minister Nazir Obeidat.

Hundreds of angry people gathered outside Al-Hussein Salt New Hospital, northwest of Amman, when news of the deaths spread.

King Abdullah visited the hospital and protesters surrounded his car as it neared the building.  

(with AFP)


Israeli police questioned on Palestinian attacker’s shooting

Israeli police questioned on Palestinian attacker’s shooting
Updated 05 December 2021

Israeli police questioned on Palestinian attacker’s shooting

Israeli police questioned on Palestinian attacker’s shooting
  • A widely circulated video shot by a bystander appeared to show an officer from Israel’s paramilitary Border Police shooting the attacker
  • Israel says its security forces make every effort to avoid harming civilians and that it investigates alleged abuses

TEL AVIV, Israel: Israel’s Justice Ministry said Sunday that two police officers were brought in for questioning following the shooting death of a Palestinian who had stabbed an Israeli man in east Jerusalem.
Israeli police released surveillance video in which the attacker can be seen Saturday stabbing the ultra-Orthodox Jewish man and then trying to stab a Border Police officer before being shot and falling to the ground. Police identified the attacker as a 25-year-old from Salfit, in the occupied West Bank. Police could later be seen carrying the body away on a stretcher.
A widely circulated video shot by a bystander appeared to show an officer from Israel’s paramilitary Border Police shooting the attacker when he was already lying on the ground, and another appeared to show police with guns drawn preventing medics from reaching him, prompting calls for an investigation into possible excessive use of force.
The shooting drew comparisons to a 2016 incident in which an Israeli soldier was caught on camera shooting a wounded Palestinian attacker who was lying on the ground.
The Justice Ministry’s police investigations unit said the police officers were questioned shortly after the incident and released without conditions.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett released a statement in support of the officers. Other leaders also defended their actions.
“It’s not clear if the terrorist maybe has an explosive belt. All sorts of things could happen,” Public Security Minister Omer Barlev, who oversees the police, told Israeli Army Radio Sunday. “They acted correctly.”
The incident happened near Damascus Gate just outside Jerusalem’s Old City, a tense and crowded area that is often the scene of demonstrations and clashes.
The Old City is in east Jerusalem, which Israel captured in the 1967 war along with the West Bank and Gaza. Israel annexed east Jerusalem in a move not recognized internationally and considers the entire city its capital. The Palestinians want east Jerusalem to be the capital of their future state, to include the West Bank and Gaza.
There have been dozens of attacks in recent years in and around the Old City, nearly all carried out by individual Palestinians with no known links to armed groups.
Palestinians and Israeli rights groups say security forces sometimes use excessive force in response to attacks, killing suspected assailants who could have been arrested or who posed no immediate threat to security forces.
Rights groups also say Israel rarely holds members of its security forces accountable for the deadly shootings of Palestinians. Investigations often end with no charges or lenient sentences, and in many cases witnesses are not summoned for questioning.
Israel says its security forces make every effort to avoid harming civilians and that it investigates alleged abuses.
In the widely publicized 2016 case, Israeli soldier Elor Azaria was caught on camera shooting a wounded Palestinian attacker who was lying on the ground. Azaria later served two-thirds of a 14-month sentence after being convicted of reckless manslaughter.
His case sharply divided Israelis. The military pushed for his prosecution, saying he violated its code of ethics, while many Israelis, particularly on the nationalist right, defended his actions.
In a more recent case, a Border Police officer was charged with reckless manslaughter in the deadly shooting of an autistic Palestinian man in Jerusalem’s Old City last year.
The indictment came just over a year after the shooting of Eyad Hallaq, whose family has criticized Israel’s investigation into the killing and called for much tougher charges. The shooting has drawn comparisons to the police killing of George Floyd in the United States.