Opinion – Daily News Egypt https://dailynewsegypt.com Egypt’s Only Daily Independent Newspaper In English Wed, 06 Jun 2018 13:30:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.1 Loans: Who is to blame?       https://dailynewsegypt.com/2018/06/06/loans-who-is-to-blame/ https://dailynewsegypt.com/2018/06/06/loans-who-is-to-blame/#respond Wed, 06 Jun 2018 13:30:33 +0000 https://www.dailynewsegypt.com/?p=661815 The government borrows money to meet its short- or long-term needs when there is a budget deficit. This is called debt. So, debt is a bill paid by coming generations in cases of obtaining loans for the purpose of narrowing a budget deficit without aiming to finance development projects. Or it may be a bill …

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The government borrows money to meet its short- or long-term needs when there is a budget deficit. This is called debt. So, debt is a bill paid by coming generations in cases of obtaining loans for the purpose of narrowing a budget deficit without aiming to finance development projects. Or it may be a bill paid by the current generation in cases of obtaining loans to spend on projects with future returns for the benefit of upcoming generations. There are two economic theories regarding loans; the first calls for reducing debts as they burden future generations with their interest rates. Meanwhile, another theory assumes that higher debt is better than taxation. Which is correct? Let us see what can be found through history. 

Egypt has had foreign debt since the reign of Muhammad Ali Pasha, who depended on external financing (loans) to achieve economic development. The foreign debt kept mounting until Egypt became unable to repay its debts in the 19th century, resulting in Britain’s intervention in the economy first, then occupation later.

Debts continued to increase until the second world war, accompanied by a rise in reserves, due to Egypt’s supply of services and products to the Allies and lower imports. As a consequence, Egypt’s debts were repaid while the reserves remained under the British government’s supervision. 

In 1940, Egypt began to import and opened its doors again to foreign debt, but not as much as previously so as to cause concern. Meanwhile, during the reigns of Al-Sadat and Mubarak, the foreign debt scaled up without having complete information on it—until now—and it is even different from debt outlooks, due to the increase in debt’s volume and the confidentiality of some information.

Yet, it was announced in 1974 that foreign debts reached $3bn and moved up to $16bn in 1980. During the 1980s, the real GDP (GDP minus inflation) doubled and exports increased. In 1987 the debt -to-GDP ratio equaled 1 (100%), and then debts rose to $46bn in 1988. Thus, Egypt entered—like many other countries—the late 1990s with debt burdens. Why?

Certainly, whenever a country’s foreign debt increases, pressures practiced by its creditors grow. In the 1980s, Egypt tried to negotiate with the IMF and Paris Club as representatives of some creditors. However, we were surprised (as Egyptians) by the IMF’s tribute to the financial position in Egypt with a hopeful outlook for the country’s future. The IMF granted Egypt another loan to help with an economic reform programme. That programme was divided into two parts: internal and external. The external part addressed the trade deficit and called for the floatation of the Egyptian pound (during the 1990s), in order to increase exports. Meanwhile, the internal part called on the government not to interfere in the budget deficit and price controls through subsidies. It also advocated privatisation (a well-known concept that was later improperly applied) of non-productive public sector-affiliated companies. Moreover, the Paris Club agreed to reschedule debt for carrying out the programme proposed by the IMF.    

Although there was a real desire for economic reform by the government, it was forced—to a large extent—to reject a big part of the proposed reform programme (following the example of former president Gamal Abdel Nasser). This may be attributed to people’s sensitivity towards any foreign intervention in Egypt’s economy or affairs, perhaps inherited from their ancestors after the agony they suffered during the period of British intervention.

Of course, the IMF does not care about Egyptians’ feelings and sensitivity—with the growing debt and poor economic situation—especially after government’s acceptance to receive the loan, so it had to commit to its terms. The government tried to discuss certain factors, such as slowing down the implementation of economic solutions and non-intervention of the IMF in certain aspects that may lead to political instability. We have seen some signs of the IMF’s intervention, such as reducing the budget deficit by 10% and controlling the prices of oil products, cotton, and others. Indeed, prices of products increased while imports declined. However, the IMF and Paris Club were still unsatisfied with the pace of implementing the economic reform programme, which was inconsistent with the government’s promises.

Apart from details, Egypt entered the first decade of the millennium facing many economic challenges. The GDP growth rate, for instance, was inconsistent with the population growth rate and inflation was diminishing income greatly. It is true that government tried to solve these problems, but further reforms were needed.

Egypt’s debts have increased significantly from 2015 to date, registering a total foreign debt of $82.9bn (or 36.1% of GDP). Although that rate is still safe, as it has not exceeded international standards, many see a problem in such an increase and see that the government should lower it.

It is known that the foreign debt ratio of developed economies is higher than that of emerging or developing economies, especially after the global crisis that started in capitalist markets and led those countries to resort to more debt. Specifically, the ratio of the US’ foreign debt to GDP is 104%. Likewise, the ratio of public debt to GDP reached 240.3% in Japan. In fact, this issue raises some questions: how could these countries still progress despite their incredible volume of debts? Is debt the key to their success? Or it is the reason behind other countries’ economic deterioration? Can the developed countries (eg the US and Japan) be considered a special case? What does special case mean?    

If we take into account the false assumption that we should not compare ourselves to these developed countries, let us take the Kingdom of Jordan as an example. Jordan has a successful story with the IMF, although it does not have enough important resources such as water and oil. The kingdom’s economy is based on three main pillars: workers’ remittances from abroad, exports to Arab Gulf countries (which helps the kingdom meet its needs of oil resources), and aid from neighbouring countries.      

The real economic reform in Jordan started with an agreement between the IMF and the government. The main pillars of the economic reform programme were similar to those that should have been applied in Egypt during the same period (the 1980s). Unfortunately, the Gulf war affected the Jordanian economy. The aid from Gulf countries plunged in addition to the return of Jordanians working abroad, which pushed the unemployment rate up and decreased workers’ remittances. However, Iraq supplied Jordan with all its oil needs after 1991. That point in particular was the cornerstone of the Jordanian economy’s recovery. It is worth mentioning that Jordan adopted a privatisation policy as a partnership between the public and private sectors, unlike the deplorable policy applied by the government in Egypt.

Eventually, the analysis of a economy’s performance and the impact of debt on it is subject, as with anything else, to a simple principle: the optimal distribution of resources and wealth. In the era of Muhammad Ali Pasha, loans were directed to achieve economic development in Egypt by utilising them in long-term production and investment projects, even if we saw during the monarchy era a misuse of debt through using it in reducing the budget deficit without long-term production or investment projects. All the British occupation did was adopt the optimal use of resources (including debt), resulting in debt repayment in the 1940s. Then, Egypt fought in all the successive wars with the reserves that were there since then. The country borrowed again in the 1970s, as mentioned above, to face another debt increase, also mostly spent on the budget deficit without long-term production or investment projects.

Loans are a tool that cannot be judged, but a country’s use of it and how far it commits to reform plans is what determines whether debt is bad or good. 

Ahmed Ezz is a financial and economic analyst

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Opinion: What we say when we talk about race https://dailynewsegypt.com/2018/05/22/opinion-what-we-say-when-we-talk-about-race/ https://dailynewsegypt.com/2018/05/22/opinion-what-we-say-when-we-talk-about-race/#respond Tue, 22 May 2018 10:04:00 +0000 https://www.dailynewsegypt.com/?p=660169 The post Opinion: What we say when we talk about race appeared first on Daily News Egypt.

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On the surface, Harry and Meghan’s royal wedding had all the glitz and glamour you would associate with such an occasion. But now accusations of racism-tinged media coverage have taken some of the shine off the gloss.It was a wedding fit for a (new) duchess: In one of the biggest TV events of the year, an estimated two billion people tuned in to watch Meghan Markle marry Prince Harry on Saturday in a joyous, if somewhat unusual, celebration. And media across the world were scrambling to examine every angle of the Meghan and Harry story.

Read more: Royal Wedding: The world flocks to Windsor for Prince Harry and Meghan’s big day

Unsurprisingly, not everyone got it right. German public broadcaster ZDF came under fire for what was deemed racist remarks during its wall-to-wall coverage of the wedding; the journalists mused over the texture and styling regime of Meghan and her mom’s black hair and repeatedly referred to the bride and her guests as exotic. Viewers and Twitter users were not amused. ZDF said in a statement that it takes those concerns seriously.

Read more: Royal wedding: German broadcaster ZDF accused of racism in its coverage

To be clear — this was a wedding fraught with questions of culture, race, and gender. Consider Meghan Markle, a successful American actress and a biracial divorced woman, challenging centuries-old tradition in a deeply staid institution. Consider the ceremony itself, featuring a black bishop, supportive of LGBTQ rights, delivering a rousing sermon; and then a black choir performed “Stand By Me.” This was new and fresh, and as Karen Attiah, a Washington Post editor, said, an “overt celebration of black American culture.”

But Meghan and Harry aside, this is about what we say when we talk about race. And media — journalists in particular — bear a crucial responsibility in setting the tone. After all, if we aren’t careful with our words, why should anyone else be?

Exotic, for example — a term I myself, an American journalist of Sri Lankan Tamil extraction living in Berlin, have been on the receiving end of time and again in Germany — is best reserved for tropical fruit and safari animals, not people. This isn’t just semantics, either. Words are laden with history and meaning and context, and “exotic” smacks of the post-colonial coverage still scattered across media and culture in both the US and Germany, the two societies I call home.

And it is indeed important to note that Germany is not alone here. America is hardly a paragon of post-racial identity politics — think s***hole countries and Fox News calling Lebron James “barely intelligible.” Racial biases in media coverage — particularly towards black men — have come sharply into focus in the past few years with the police killings of Michael Brown and Philando Castile and the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement.

That’s why it’s equally, if not more important, to talk about what lies beneath our words: our understanding of minorities, people of color, and underrepresented groups. As long as newsrooms do not reflect the societies they serve and represent, biases and stereotypes will inevitably creep into their reporting.

The news outlets I worked for in the US actively sought to diversify their newsroom staffs, yet the numbers — in 2015, minorities made up only about 12 percent of the workforce according to the American Society of News Editors — are still troubling. In Germany, where at least 20 percent of the population have immigrant roots, the trend is even more pronounced. It’s difficult to find concrete numbers on newsroom diversity in Germany, but various research has identified the need to create more inclusive media outlets. As DW’s newsroom has continued to diversify, our storytelling has grown richer, more nuanced. Frankly, it’s gotten better. And while we’re here — diversity of gender, economic class, and political views are also crucial to balanced coverage.

Including a spectrum of political views is vital, but only as long as it’s constructive. We’ve seen members of the right-wing in particular arguing for the right to cast off the “thought police” shackles and break taboos on race and identity. But what does that look like? German public broadcaster MDR recently attempted to host a talk show reflecting on political correctness in our political and public sphere. The title of the show was “Are we allowed to say ‘N*****’ today?” Oh, and the commentators invited to debate the topic were, inexplicably, only white Germans. (An uproar ensued and MDR had to cancel the show).

So let’s talk openly about words and what they mean, and race and what constitutes racism — but on an even playing field, where minority voices are well-represented, and words are not wielded as weapons. That leads to constructive dialogue. Who knows, maybe Meghan and Harry gave us the impetus we needed.

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Serving growing need for higher education https://dailynewsegypt.com/2018/04/23/serving-growing-need-higher-education/ https://dailynewsegypt.com/2018/04/23/serving-growing-need-higher-education/#respond Mon, 23 Apr 2018 10:30:42 +0000 https://www.dailynewsegypt.com/?p=657653 The demand for higher education around the world is growing. By 2030, according to UNESCO, the number of enrolled students is expected to more than double to over 414 million. Serving that population and others requires extraordinary energy and imagination, strategic thinking, and innovation. The need for quality higher education is especially important in the …

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The demand for higher education around the world is growing. By 2030, according to UNESCO, the number of enrolled students is expected to more than double to over 414 million. Serving that population and others requires extraordinary energy and imagination, strategic thinking, and innovation.

The need for quality higher education is especially important in the Arab region as a whole, whose youth make up is the highest proportion of the youth population in the world. While the Arab world expects to widen its educated talent pool by 50% by 2030, according to the World Economic Forum, opportunities are out of reach for far too many of the region’s 105 million young people.

This means thinking differently about the kinds of institutions and the approaches to teaching and learning that will best accomplish this mission. Given the scale of need, the region could not build enough brick-and-mortar colleges fast enough. However, the advancements in online higher education make it possible to optimise existing educational resources and tap into increasingly sophisticated and flexible online degree programmes and courses that match or even exceed the traditional classroom experience.

New digital tools allow us to assess and serve the variety of ways that students absorb information and develop understanding. With a growing body of data, we can better understand how to help struggling students and provide individualised learning that allows students to work at their own pace and achieve better outcomes. Far from the early days when students simply watched a recorded lecture, today online students experience courses comprised of short learning modules, dynamic problem-solving and experimentation, interactive simulations, and real-time feedback.

And we know that Arab youth are well-positioned for this kind of learning: a recent student survey conducted by the Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education (AGFE) found that 90% of Arab high school and university students are confident in using online resources for academic work, and over 55% spend at least three hours on the internet every day.

Recognising the opportunity to increase access for the widest number of qualified students, the AGFE and Arizona State University (ASU) joined forces to offer 550 scholarships to high-achieving Emirati and Arab youth under 30 years old to complete their master’s degrees online. The Al Ghurair Open Learning Scholars (OLS) Programme offers scholarships in 28 specialisations, ranging from business analytics and construction management, to systems, industrial, and electrical engineering, to early childhood education, nutrition, and sustainable tourism.

As a global leader in online education, ASU offers courses developed and taught by world-class professors who are focused on student success, both academically and professionally. The master’s programmes represent the ongoing commitment by ASU to expand its diverse and increasingly global student body, as well as the AGFE’s dedication to help train a new generation of Emirati and Arab youth who can continue to pursue their careers while tending to family and other responsibilities. This flexibility enables access for talented youth who previously lacked the opportunity to continue their education internationally.

In addition to offering a high-quality education, students enrolled through the Open Learning Scholars programme also benefit from academic counseling and coaching, one key reason ASU online students—over 30,000 worldwide—have one of the highest completion rates at over 90%.

Attainment of college and advanced degrees represents the single clearest predictor of social and economic mobility. Across the OECD countries, adults with a university degree earn on average 56% more than those with only a high school diploma. Evidence across the globe also finds that university graduates have lower rates of unemployment, better health outcomes, and longer lifespans. 

This focus on education could not be more critical, both for the lives of individual students and for the positive development of society more broadly. Given the accelerating economic and technological transformations around the world, those who will prosper and meaningfully contribute to society must be creative, adaptive learners with the lifelong faculty to learn new skills and concepts, embrace new ways of thinking and learning, and pursue new careers. This is both the promise and responsibility of higher education.

The continuing evolution of high-quality online education—and the expanding investment in new digital tools and capabilities—makes it possible to provide access to higher education on a global scale. This is a great reason to be optimistic about dramatically increasing the number of Arab students with higher education credentials.

Michael M Crow is the president of Arizona State University, ranked the most innovative university in the US for three straight years by US News & World Report

Maysa Jalbout is the chief executive officer of the Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education, a privately funded foundation based in Dubai

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Egypt: Turning potential into performance https://dailynewsegypt.com/2018/04/11/egypt-turning-potential-performance/ https://dailynewsegypt.com/2018/04/11/egypt-turning-potential-performance/#respond Wed, 11 Apr 2018 11:00:18 +0000 https://www.dailynewsegypt.com/?p=656599 The revival of Egypt’s economic fortunes over the past few years has been nothing short of dramatic. The Arab world’s most populous country has devalued its currency and carried out a series of bold, but necessary, reforms to stabilise its economy, stimulate growth, and increase employment. A $12bn loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) …

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The revival of Egypt’s economic fortunes over the past few years has been nothing short of dramatic. The Arab world’s most populous country has devalued its currency and carried out a series of bold, but necessary, reforms to stabilise its economy, stimulate growth, and increase employment. A $12bn loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has provided the necessary headroom for Egypt to implement such deep structural changes.

The results of Egypt’s reform push are clear to see. Critical fiscal consolidation policies are well into their second year, eye-watering rates of inflation have more than halved, to 14.4%, since hitting a peak of 33% last summer, and the country’s once severely depleted foreign exchange reserves have rebounded to record levels of $42.5bn in February compared with just $26.5bn a year earlier.

As expected, Egyptian financial markets have also responded positively. Since the Egyptian pound was floated in December 2016, the country’s main gauge of stocks, the EGX30 index, has rallied some 80% while the cost of insuring Egyptian debt against default has dropped to 256 basis points, from 475 basis points over the same period. The equity market rally has been broad based and not limited to the top companies. The EGX70 index has also surged by an impressive 140% over the same period.

Without doubt, Egypt’s ambitious reform programme is a welcome step forward in tackling many of the country’s economic inefficiencies. And while there is still plenty of work to be done, steady progress should translate into more opportunities for stock market investors.  In our view, Egypt has one of the strongest growth profiles in the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region due to years of limited investment and an ever-expanding population that has created a pent-up demand for basic goods and services. We believe there is scope for sectors such as manufacturing, healthcare, and consumer-related goods to gain in the months ahead, especially as economic activity picks up momentum.

Another key factor supporting our constructive view on Egyptian equities is the country’s improving interest rate environment. In March, the country’s central bank lowered its overnight deposit rate by another 100 basis points to 16.7%, the second rate cut since the Egyptian pound was floated. The central bank had previously relied on an aggressive course of monetary tightening to rein in inflation and stabilise the Egyptian pound. In our view, further monetary policy easing is likely, and we expect another 200-basis point reduction in the central bank’s key rate over the coming 12 months.

What is becoming obvious is that investor appetite for Egyptian risk is strong and the prospect of lower interest rates, which typically supports higher market valuations, should provide a crutch for the local stock market moving forward.  Add to this a local currency that is stable and, one could strongly argue, undervalued, and the outlook for local equities is an encouraging one.

Investors can also take heart from an Egyptian economy that is building momentum. According to the IMF, gross domestic product (GDP) should grow by 4.8% in 2018, up from 4.2% last year. If Egypt maintains its commitment to deep and lasting economic reforms, then achieving 6-7% growth over the next three years becomes, in our opinion, within reach. New gas production and a rebound in tourism revenues should also see the government’s current account deficit fall to about 4.5% of GDP this year, from around 6% in 2017, according to the IMF. 

While the upside for investors in Egypt is increasingly clear, there are still some lingering tail risks. Key subsidy cuts, such as the energy reforms planned for later this year, could stoke further inflationary pressures. This in turn could limit the effectiveness of such far-reaching change. Meanwhile, security issues in Egypt remain a threat, particularly in areas surrounding Sinai, potentially putting at risk the nascent recovery seen in the country’s all-important tourism sector.   

Risks aside, the overriding message in Egypt is that it is open for business. But if the Arab republic is to realise its full potential, then transitioning from a recovery “mindset” and adopting longer-term structural reforms is essential. The country is blessed with a young and rapidly growing population, a low-cost but increasingly literate labour force, and a geographical location that puts it near big export markets in Europe and Africa. Leveraging such an opportunity will ensure that Egypt’s potential is fully captured. 

Salah Shamma is head of investment for the Middle East and North Africa at Franklin Templeton Emerging Markets Equity

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Chemical attacks will continue unless there are consequences https://dailynewsegypt.com/2018/04/11/chemical-attacks-will-continue-unless-consequences/ https://dailynewsegypt.com/2018/04/11/chemical-attacks-will-continue-unless-consequences/#respond Wed, 11 Apr 2018 10:00:43 +0000 https://www.dailynewsegypt.com/?p=656596 If the lives of thousands of Syrians have no value to those watching indifferently, the whole world will be in danger when these precedents become familiar acts, made acceptable by silence and failure to punish the criminals. Silence in the face of what the Syrian, Iranian, and Russian regimes are doing in Syria will make …

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If the lives of thousands of Syrians have no value to those watching indifferently, the whole world will be in danger when these precedents become familiar acts, made acceptable by silence and failure to punish the criminals. Silence in the face of what the Syrian, Iranian, and Russian regimes are doing in Syria will make all the region’s cities open to “murder by gas” as a result of the broadening of wars and the cold global responses.

The mass murder of civilians started four years ago and is still ongoing. The first time we heard of it in the Syrian war was on 19 March 2013 in the suburbs of Aleppo. This was followed by another chemical attack on 29 April in Saraqeb, and then another on Ghouta in Greater Damascus on 21 August. Three days later, the Damascus suburb of Jobar was sprayed, and Ashrafiyat Sahnaya—another suburb—was attacked by chemicals on 25 August. 

These attacks were carried out in the same year and, even though they were numerous, no one was held accountable; and despite the repeated crimes and the strong evidence, the Syrian regime consistently denied they were chemical attacks. Indeed, the regime always claimed that all reports were nothing but media drama and exaggerations, which eventually forced the Syrian opposition to attempt—in collaboration with the UN—to transfer the body of a victim of a sarin gas attack to the US to analyse it and prove beyond doubt that the forbidden nerve agent had been used.

Today the real problem lies neither in the existence of evidence, which does exist and is significant, nor in the criminal systems; it lies in the international community and its institutions, which have been ignoring the situation. The international community’s attitude toward crimes it usually considers as an attack on itself, and a danger to the human race, is quite unusual. The audacity of the regimes of Syria, Iran, and Russia in allowing and facilitating the use of chemical weapons against civilians, amid international silence, encourages governments as well as groups to resort to them since they are a cheap, easy to use, efficient, and psychologically frightening weapons.

As I have previously written, “Saturday’s attack on Douma was not the first, second, or even the 10th time civilians in Syria have been suffocated like bugs by chemical gas. Similar to the Syrian regime, Iran is a country ruled by a regime that neither cares about sacrificing its citizens, nor hesitates to commit genocide against its enemies.”

Let us compare the above to the reactions to the attempted assassination of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal in the United Kingdom, which came as a result of disrespect caused by submissiveness. This was not the first incident of its kind on British soil; however, previous crimes did not lead to holding anyone accountable. Another Russian died while jogging in 2012 but the investigation was closed despite the suspicion that he was murdered by poison. 

The crime was repeated a month ago, when Skripal and his daughter were targets of a mysterious attack using a nerve agent. Regarding it as a dangerous attack on British territory, London expelled a large number of Russian diplomats, and announced that its officials would boycott this summer’s football World Cup finals in Russia.

Met with sarcasm in Moscow, the British step on its own would not have carried much weight. However, it won the support of many countries around the world, which also expelled Russian diplomats, in a response that was unprecedented since the end of the Cold War. Moscow now wants dialogue because it feels the danger of what happened, and what was attributed to it, whether it was the culprit or not. 

Similar to the Syrian regime, Iran is a country ruled by a regime that neither cares about sacrificing its citizens, nor hesitates to commit genocide against its enemies. It will not relent in resorting to its chemical weapons supplies to kill thousands of people in wars it is fighting anywhere in the world. The number of conflict zones is increasing, and there seem to be no limits to the means of genocide and mass destruction.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya news channel, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat. Twitter: @aalrashed

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A small example of peaceful coexistence https://dailynewsegypt.com/2018/04/11/small-example-peaceful-coexistence/ https://dailynewsegypt.com/2018/04/11/small-example-peaceful-coexistence/#respond Wed, 11 Apr 2018 09:00:57 +0000 https://www.dailynewsegypt.com/?p=656588 Growing up in Tucumán, a town in the north of Argentina, I had the opportunity to see a small example of peaceful coexistence and collaboration between Arabs and Jews. I was reminded of that experience after reading an article by Uri Avnery, one of the leading peace activists in Israel, on the need for a …

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Growing up in Tucumán, a town in the north of Argentina, I had the opportunity to see a small example of peaceful coexistence and collaboration between Arabs and Jews. I was reminded of that experience after reading an article by Uri Avnery, one of the leading peace activists in Israel, on the need for a peace narrative in the Middle East.

Tucumán, a medium-size city in northern Argentina received numerous immigrants (among them my father) who came to that city at the beginning of the last century, notably among them citizens from Arab countries. The city also had a substantial Jewish population.

In the downtown area there was a stretch of several blocks called “la Maipú” after the name of its main street. What made this part of the city so unusual is that dozens of shops owned by both Arabs and Jews existed there. I don’t remember a single incident of violence between both communities while I lived there. In some cases, the shop owners from both communities collaborated with each other because of shared commercial interests.

In the 1950s, my father, together with two friends, founded what they called the “Cultural Atheneum Gibran Khalil Gibran”. Its main purpose was the organisation of lectures by noted speakers, like Nobel Prize in Literature winner Miguel Angel Asturias and such famous Argentinean writers as Ernesto Sábato and Ezequiel Martínez Estrada.

Because of the high intellectual calibre of the lecturers, these events were very well attended—even though there was a relatively high entrance fee—by students, professors, and a cultured general public.

Many of the lectures were presented at the Sociedad Sirio Libanesa (Syrian and Lebanese Society) long before the painful schism between the two countries. At the time, there was considerable unease among the society’s directors about permitting Jewish intellectuals to attend the lectures.

Because of my father’s untiring efforts, however, Jewish students and teachers were allowed to participate in those events, something that had never happened before. In both cases, commercial and cultural common interests allowed both Arabs and Jews to collaborate, overcoming traditional distrust. A common-interest narrative had been developed, one leading to a totally peaceful relationship between both communities.

If a common narrative could be created then, can one be created now in the Middle East based on the common need for peace? I believe it can, but only if each side of the conflict is able to see the other in real terms, not in the usual demonising terms created by decades of antagonism.

Uri Avnery, a leading peace activist in Israel, argues that this lack of a common focus is the main obstacle to peace in the Middle East now. “Reconciliation is impossible if either side is totally oblivious to the narrative of the other, their history, beliefs, perceptions, myths,” argues Avnery. And he adds, “Only if the American intermediaries, neutral or otherwise, understand both can they contribute to furthering peace.”

Although Avnery is right in his wishes for peace, American intermediaries have so far proved to be totally ineffective and one sided in their approach to solving the long conflict between Palestinians and Israelis. The same could be said for Mr Tony Blair, whose only achievement as an intermediary has been the thousands of free miles that he has earned in his repeated visits to the region.  

I am, however, still hopeful and to wonder if, in my hometown, thousands of miles away from the Middle East, a common narrative was found based on shared commercial and cultural interests, why the same could not occur now, based on the more important goal of peace between both peoples.

César Chelala is a co-winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award and two national journalism awards from Argentina

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The Iraq war fuelled the destruction of the Middle East          https://dailynewsegypt.com/2018/04/04/iraq-war-fuelled-destruction-middle-east/ https://dailynewsegypt.com/2018/04/04/iraq-war-fuelled-destruction-middle-east/#respond Wed, 04 Apr 2018 10:30:15 +0000 https://dailynewsegypt.com/?p=656137 Fifteen years after it started, the Iraq war has nearly destroyed the country, one of the most prosperous in the Middle East, and destabilised the whole region by intensifying internecine and religious conflicts and giving rise to new and violent groups. And the human and material costs of the war keep mounting. In addition to …

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Fifteen years after it started, the Iraq war has nearly destroyed the country, one of the most prosperous in the Middle East, and destabilised the whole region by intensifying internecine and religious conflicts and giving rise to new and violent groups. And the human and material costs of the war keep mounting.

In addition to the American soldiers who were killed or injured, the war has had a considerable negative effect on the US economy. The war has also had a negative impact on US troops’ morale There has also been a high rate of suicides prevalent among those returning from the war.

Like a malicious octopus, the ill-named Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) has extended its deadly tentacles into nearby countries and turned the region into the unmanageable mess it is today. Major Danny Sjursen, a US Army strategist who fought in Iraq recently wrote, “that ill-fated farce of an invasion either created the conditions, or exacerbated the existing tensions, which inform today’s regional wars.”

The war has increased Sunni-Shiite tension, fostered the emergence of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, and strengthened Iran as a military power in the region. Following the US-led invasion, the Iraqi Shiite Arab majority took a central role in government, an unprecedented event in the Middle East, which also encouraged the Shiites across the region. In a persistent crisis, the Sunnis in Iraq rebelled against the Iraqi Shiites, launching a rebellion against them that has claimed tens of thousands of lives.

There was no Al-Qaeda in Iraq before the US and British invasion. It first appeared in Iraq in 2004, when Abu Musab al-Zarqawi formed an alliance with Al-Qaeda, pledging his allegiance to Osama bin Laden in return for his endorsement as the leader of the group’s franchise in Iraq. Al-Qaeda’s main targets were Iraqi Shiites, whom they attacked during religious processions or at their mosques and shrines. After 2007, Al-Qaeda was considerably weakened after the US funded Sunni groups called “Awakening Councils” to expel this organisation from Iraq.

Although less powerful than during its peak years, Al-Qaeda continues to be active in its violent activities, whose targets now also include Syria and Yemen. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the Yemeni branch of Al-Qaeda, is now thriving in Yemen, taking advantage of the chaotic environment in the country. A ravaged country, Yemen continues to be one of the poorest countries in the world.

In Syria, Al-Qaeda still has a presence, albeit less powerful now. Jabhat al-Nusra, Al-Qaeda’s ideological heir, and Hay’et Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the group it formed, remain in eastern Ghouta, northern Hama, and western Aleppo provinces, contributing to the prolongation of Syria’s bloody war.

At the same time, the militants of the Islamic State group (IS), the brutal offshoot of Al-Qaeda, have no restraints in pursuing brutal tactics to cement an Islamic emirate. In an IS propaganda video, after bulldozing the Syrian-Iraq border, an ISIS militant says, “we will break the barrier of Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, all the countries. This is the first of many barriers we will break.”

The Iraq war has proved to be a disaster for the Middle East. The destruction of Iraq, Syria, the ravaging of Yemen, and a region swamped in weapons are connected, either directly or indirectly, to the Iraq war. It may be tempting to think that the war had some redeeming value. However, considering its consequences, one can only conclude that nothing will assuage the savage wounds of this senseless war.

César Chelala is an international public health consultant and the foreign correspondent for The Middle East Times International (Australia)

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5 things global CFOs should do in 2018 https://dailynewsegypt.com/2018/04/04/5-things-global-cfos-2018/ https://dailynewsegypt.com/2018/04/04/5-things-global-cfos-2018/#respond Wed, 04 Apr 2018 10:00:54 +0000 https://dailynewsegypt.com/?p=656135 Where should CFOs focus their attention in 2018? In my conversations with customers across Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, a few key patterns and themes have become clear. Chief financial officers (CFOs) recognise that the role of corporate finance needs to change to keep pace with the world around them. Rapid changes in consumer …

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Where should CFOs focus their attention in 2018?

In my conversations with customers across Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, a few key patterns and themes have become clear. Chief financial officers (CFOs) recognise that the role of corporate finance needs to change to keep pace with the world around them. Rapid changes in consumer technologies, new regulations, and a flood of millennials entering the workforce are forcing the world of business to adapt. Those companies that cannot keep pace run the risk of becoming extinct.

In extensive talks with customers, partners, researchers, and subject-matter experts, we have identified five things that global CFOs should focus on in the year ahead.

1. Start building tomorrow’s finance today

Emerging technologies—such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, blockchain, the Internet of Things and more—are poised to revolutionise the world of work. Think about how many of us (especially Millennials) use these technologies already in our personal lives. We ask questions of Siri or Alexa, and they get smarter and more responsive to us the more we use them. This is where finance is heading.

As my colleague Steve Cox said recently, “there will be pre-AI computing and post-AI computing. It is that revolutionary.”

Even if you’re not going to be doing anything in particular around artificial intelligence or machine learning in the next year, you should be planning for it—because your competitors already are. Deloitte forecasts that businesses are likely to double their use of machine learning technology by the end of this year.

Arun Khehar

Tomorrow’s finance function will achieve much higher levels of automation using these emerging technologies—for example, using intelligent process automation to perform most of the manual tasks associated with the financial close. AI-enabled finance applications will report exceptions as they occur, learn from those exceptions, and then make recommendations to resolve similar issues in the future—eliminating delays and continually speeding the close process.

The goal is not to replace finance with emerging technologies. The goal is to offload the tasks that they spend too much time on today. Finance professionals have excellent analytical and critical thinking skills, and every CFO could benefit from putting those skills to better use.

CFOs must also consider the implications of blockchain, both for its potential to disintermediate certain transactional processes and to reduce costs. And they can optimise their supply chains using the Internet of Things, augmented reality and embedded AI processes like automated demand sensing.

All of these emerging technologies are enabled by the cloud, because the cloud provides the sheer scalability of computing power necessary. If the pace of change forced you to look at replacing your on-premises enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems last year, the pressure will only become greater in 2018.

2. Deliver meaningful insights

The average business is doubling the amount of data it manages every year. Yet even with reams of data, organisations are often still in the dark. The goal of finance technology projects should be to turn a flood of information and reports into meaningful insights—to board members, senior executives, and other stakeholders.

The average finance function might be able to run thousands of reports, but they spend an inordinate amount of time analysing those reports, reconciling the numbers, and ensuring that they are getting consistent results across lines of business. A critical focus of CFOs needs to be knocking down data silos in their organisation so there is a single source of truth. When finance teams trust their data, they spend less time reconciling it and more time turning it into meaningful insights.

This also means providing modern, easy-to-use, and easy-to-understand reports that finance teams can access quickly—whether that is on their laptop, tablet, mobile phone, or other device. Millennials, in particular, want apps that improve personal productivity and effectiveness—similar to the tools they use in their personal lives.

3. Close security gaps

Not a day goes by without a report of a business dealing with a cyberattack or security breach. Large or small, any organisation is a potential target, whether the hacker’s goal is to steal confidential company financial data or demand a ransom. CFOs are realising that the security safeguards in their current finance systems are not enough.

The maintenance of on-premises software (and hardware) is dependent upon implementing the next release or patch—and, as we saw in the Equifax breach, such patches are often not made in a timely fashion.

With finance applications in the cloud, none of this is an issue; the systems are always up-to-date with the latest security measures. Organisations already using the public cloud consider heightened security to be one of the main benefits.

But in an environment with multiple cloud solutions, security depends on multiple providers, making it only as safe as its weakest link. Thus, CFOs looking at a move to the cloud need to look at potential providers and ensure that they can provide security across all layers of the stack, from applications to infrastructure.

4. Comply with global data protection regulations

My colleague Paul Flannery recently wrote about the impact of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The cost of non-compliance has brought GDPR to the attention of boardrooms not just in the EU, but globally. The potential magnitude of fines is significant: 4% of an organisation’s global revenue, or €20m, whichever is greater. There’s also the potential damage to the reputation of any company that fails to comply with breach notification requirements.

Recently, the International Data Corporation (IDC) gathered executives from organisations across Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA), to gain insight into how they are approaching GDPR. The resulting report, “Does Cloud Help or Hinder GDPR Compliance?” summarises discussions from events in France, Italy, Morocco, Spain, South Africa, Sweden, and Switzerland. It flags the many potential benefits of compliance and recommends a framework to focus on particular GDPR requirements and select the right technology for the job.

GDPR compliance is a long-term commitment, and investment in implementing a cost-effective supporting infrastructure will prove to be valuable in the years ahead. It might even represent one of the biggest opportunities to accelerate digital transformation in recent years.

Which brings us to the final item on our CFO to-do list:

5. Be ready to transform—and grow  

The engine of any company’s business is its financial systems. But if those systems make it difficult to shift gears into new business models or expand into new regions, your company will find itself further and further behind competitors.

For example, many manufacturers are starting to sell their products as subscription services; banks are partnering with fintech startups; automakers are becoming information-service and entertainment companies. All of this requires more than the right technology. It also requires the right people and skill sets, access to the right data, the right culture, and the right processes in place.

While it is fairly easy to change your IT infrastructure, it i much more challenging to try to change the culture of a company. That’s where a CFO’s leadership is critical.

Adjusting to an accelerated pace of change is not a one-time thing. CFOs and their finance organisations need to become agents of continuous change—so that their organisations are agile, adaptable, and ready to shift gears to compete with any challenges the future holds.

Arun Khehar is Oracle’s senior vice president for the applications business across the Eastern Central Europe-Middle East-Africa region

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Saving the environment, empowering women https://dailynewsegypt.com/2018/04/02/saving-environment-empowering-women/ https://dailynewsegypt.com/2018/04/02/saving-environment-empowering-women/#respond Mon, 02 Apr 2018 10:00:56 +0000 https://dailynewsegypt.com/?p=655811 Vickie Frémont, a French woman born in Cameroon, is a modern day heroine. For the past several years she has been conducting workshops around the world, using a hands-on approach for the transformation of rejects or trash into useful everyday objects. Included in her workshops—which take place in schools, community centres, universities, and even in …

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Vickie Frémont, a French woman born in Cameroon, is a modern day heroine. For the past several years she has been conducting workshops around the world, using a hands-on approach for the transformation of rejects or trash into useful everyday objects. Included in her workshops—which take place in schools, community centres, universities, and even in commercial malls—are lectures on the destructive effects that trash of every kind has on the environment and on climate change.

 

She has conducted her workshops using recycled materials at The Fashion Institute of Technology, The Bank Street School for Children, The Henry Street Settlement in New York City, Community Works, and numerous museums, libraries, public, and private schools. She particularly remembers the time during one of her workshops when an elderly lady came up to her and asked her, “so, Vickie, what are we going to do next week?”

Ms Frémont left Cameroon at an early age. She lived in Morocco with her parents, and afterwards also in the Ivory Coast and in France. Ms Frémont has a dual background—a Cameroonian mother and a French father—which she believes has considerably enriched her view of the world and allowed her to see the points of contact of different cultures.

She has been designing and creating objects from recycled materials since she was eight years old, without any formal education. When she was 12, she began making dolls for her little sister. That initial work developed later into a passion for creating new objects out of recycled materials.

She focuses on what she loves: creating jewellery, bracelets, necklaces, earrings, sculptures, children’s toys, and art objects out of different materials such as hangers, plastic baskets, paper, cardboard, old wood objects, and rope, in short, anything that can be re-used. When I asked her, what was her guiding emotion, she told me, “to keep a part of my childhood, and to centre myself.”

Despite all her teaching activities she considers herself much more than a teacher. As she said, “much more than a teacher, I think of myself as someone who opens doors—the doors that exist inside us that make it possible to discover and develop our own creativity and to be able to have a better, richer communication with other people and other cultures.”

Her programme of working and creating handmade objects has a set of goals, which Ms Frémont describes as: providing materials for practical work which will lead to awakening the students’ creativity, restoring their self-esteem, developing their capacity to transmit their experience, including new knowledge, to others, and getting training for commercial and business activities. As part of this last activity, participants are taught business techniques such as adequate packaging, sales techniques, and bookkeeping.

After working in different countries, she settled in New York City, where she was the manager in charge of purchases at the Museum of African Art and continued expanding her activities as a jewellery designer. That activity brought her great recognition and international brands bought her creations. Talking about this activity she said, “my jewellery speaks about beauty as a source of empowerment. Each of my pieces is unique, as each woman is also unique.”

Her Recycling Art Programme teaches students how to create artistic objects from materials as diverse as stones, wooden sticks, and scraps of fabric. She told me, “creating something from ‘nothing’, art that some people would consider trash, is not only a worthwhile undertaking but one that brings personal pleasure and understanding.”

That programme has so far been adapted to be carried out with primary school and high school children as well as college students, teachers, parents, and seniors. For people working in stressful situations, it can provide them with entertainment and a way out of their routine work and a way to express their natural talents. As she says, “beauty can be found everywhere. Transformation of objects is like a miracle, a re-creation. This activity helps people to restore their self-esteem and it opens a door into the unlimited world of creativity.”

Her next workshops are to be conducted in Zimbabwe. She has an abiding passion for the art, culture, and music of Africa. Vickie Frémont left Africa many years ago, but Africa has not left her.

Dr Cesar Chelala is an international public health consultant and a winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award and two national journalism awards from Argentina.

 

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New foundations https://dailynewsegypt.com/2018/04/02/new-foundations/ https://dailynewsegypt.com/2018/04/02/new-foundations/#respond Mon, 02 Apr 2018 09:00:18 +0000 https://dailynewsegypt.com/?p=655808 In the post-second world war era, American-Saudi relations had been a strategic constant in the Arab world. Both the United States and Saudi Arabia had made sure to work in concert and coordinate closely their Arab and regional policies. There had been disagreements, and in some instances, very serious ones, like the ramifications of the …

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In the post-second world war era, American-Saudi relations had been a strategic constant in the Arab world. Both the United States and Saudi Arabia had made sure to work in concert and coordinate closely their Arab and regional policies. There had been disagreements, and in some instances, very serious ones, like the ramifications of the oil embargo in the early 1970s, in solidarity with Egypt and Syria in the October war.

Relations between the two countries cooled, momentarily, at the height of what was dubbed the Arab Spring, due to the support that the Obama administration hastily provided for the pseudo-revolutions in some Arab countries, and the perception by Saudi Arabia under the late King Abdullah that Washington had dumped its old allies like former Egyptian president Mohamed Hosni Mubarak in February 2011. The full Saudi support for Egypt in the wake of the June revolution of 2013 against the Muslim Brotherhood’s brief rule in Cairo from 2012 to 2013 contrasted sharply with the sanctions that the Obama administration decreed against Egypt in retaliation.

The Obama administration mended fences with the Saudis and the Arab Gulf countries by hosting the Camp David Summit in 2015 in an attempt to restore confidence and mutual trust. Former president Barack Obama had flown to Saudi Arabia in 2014 to meet the late King Abdullah to put the bilateral relations between the two countries back on track. His passing away in January 2015 removed a tough Saudi leader from the scene, who had lost trust in the Obama administration, and in Obama himself.

The successor to the late Saudi monarch, King Salman, proved to be more open towards American overtures, and this manifested itself in American support for the war in Yemen that Saudi Arabia had launched in March 2015.In the meantime, the election of President Donald Trump reinvigorated Saudi-American relations to the extent that the first foreign country that President Trump visited in his first tour abroad was Saudi Arabia, where he participated in an unprecedented American-Arab-Islamic Summit in Riyadh last May.

A few weeks earlier, President Trump had received at the White House the former deputy crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman. Later developments would prove that this visit was extremely important in chartering a new course for the American-Saudi relationship for the next 50 years.

One month after the Riyadh Summit of May 2017, Prince Mohammed bin Salman was appointed crown prince, a move that the White House welcomed. And the new crown prince, ever since, has embarked on a very ambitious modernisation plan in Saudi Arabia. For the first time since the establishment of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932, women would be allowed to drive effective June 2018, a revolutionary move by any measure, given the adamant opposition of the powerful religious establishment in Saudi Arabia. Moreover, women were allowed to participate in soccer games, also a revolutionary first.

As far as foreign policy is concerned, Riyadh, once MBS (as the crown prince is known in foreign media) was in the saddle, began adopting positions very close to American policies on two major questions. The first relates to Iran and the second to the Palestinian question in advance of the much-anticipated American peace proposals for a “historic deal,” according to the White House, between the Palestinians and the Israelis. On the two questions, differences of policies are negligible. The American and Saudi positions on confronting Iran and its proxies across the Middle East and the Gulf are identical.

Another measure of full American support to MBS came when Saudi authorities launched a major operation against corruption, at least that was the public rationale for the arrest of 100 former senior Saudi officials that included royal princes, as well as leading businessmen, like Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who was later released from custody. There are still dozens of leading figures under arrest. When the news of the mass crackdown became known, President Trump tweeted that King Salman and his crown prince know best.

Against this historical and political background, MBS flew to the United States this month on a two-week tour of the United States. President Trump received him at the White House on 20 March. The Saudi crown prince later met with congressional leaders, as well as the editorial board of the Washington Post, in a charm offensive aiming at consolidating his power and support base in the American capital. It was not lost on Middle Eastern observers that the news that Saudi Arabia would allow Air India to cross Saudi airspace in direct air links between India and Israel, for the first time since the creation of Israel in 1948, had begun to circulate in Israeli and American media around the time MBS arrived in Washington DC.

The Saudi crown prince is still touring the United States from coast to coast, visiting Silicon Valley, high-tech institutes, oil giants, and influential think tanks in a bid to lay the foundations of his future rule of Saudi Arabia which could come any time soon, and a strengthened alliance between his country and the United States.

Historians would compare this visit and its impact on the long-term relationship between Washington and Riyadh to the encounter between former American president Franklin Roosevelt and the founder of Saudi Arabia, King Abdulaziz Al Saud on the USS Quincy in the Suez Canal back in 1945, a summit that was arranged by the Egyptian government. This Suez Canal summit had laid the foundation for a solid and long-lasting American-Saudi relationship that had shaped the Middle East, the Gulf, and the Arab World for more than half a century. The present tour of MBS is nothing less, albeit in a much different international system and in a highly-altered regional system.

Hussein Haridy is a former assis- tant to the foreign minister

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Opinion: The one way to control Facebook — delete your account https://dailynewsegypt.com/2018/03/21/opinion-the-one-way-to-control-facebook-delete-your-account/ https://dailynewsegypt.com/2018/03/21/opinion-the-one-way-to-control-facebook-delete-your-account/#respond Wed, 21 Mar 2018 15:46:00 +0000 https://www.dailynewsegypt.com/?p=654582 Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who famously took his first cynical steps towards creating the society-smashing social network in a university dorm, has seen his company take a financial hammering. Or so the story goes.

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Tougher security settings on Facebook just won’t cut it, says DW’s Zulfikar Abbany. In his opinion, you shouldn’t be using Facebook in the first place — and users have themselves to blame in part for data breaches.Imagine you’re an alien, snooping around from space, and you happen to catch some American cable network coverage of Facebook’s (current) data scandal, as I just did in a Hamburg hotel this week. You might think the tech giant’s only issue was tumbling stock.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who famously took his first cynical steps towards creating the society-smashing social network in a university dorm, has seen his company take a financial hammering. Or so the story goes.

At one point on Monday, Facebook was down $50 billion (€40.7 billion) in market value. That’s one thousand dollars for every one of the 50 million Facebook users who apparently had his or her data misappropriated — read, stolen and misused for some psychological warfare tool — by the UK-based data mining firm, Cambridge Analytica. And Zuckerberg reportedly took a personal hit of $6 billion the day after the data abuse was revealed. Pooey.

Do I care? Come off it.

Read more: Facebook’s profile: 5 things to know about the world’s biggest social network

Complicit Facebook users

I don’t even care about the fact that Facebook has deployed surveillance tactics, the envy of any spy agency, to increase its advertising power since it started. Or the fact that more than 2 billion monthly active Facebook users social-striptease their lives. Why? Because all users are complicit. Just like a drug addict can’t only blame her dealer, Facebook users cannot only blame Facebook. Every data breach starts the moment you log online — even if you use a virtual private network (VPN).

Yes, I am being rather conceited and taking the moral high ground here. But I can afford to because I don’t use Facebook. I have an account purely to access the network when I need to verify user-generated content for work. But otherwise I have never understood Facebook’s appeal — right from the early days when colleagues would forget it was time to head behind the mic to read the news because they were too busy updating their status.

There is one caveat, though: even as a non-user, Facebook’s reach into my life is significant, simply through the pervasiveness and persuasiveness of crowd (un)intelligence that it and other social media … create (for want of a less positive-sounding word).

Brought it upon ourselves

But ultimately, the Cambridge Analytica breach is not the crux of the matter. You don’t need big data analytics, algorithms and artificial intelligence to construct terrifyingly true profiles of people anywhere in the world. All you need is a set of eyeballs and a smattering of human intelligence.

And this is the very point. We have willingly thrown almost all human intelligence into some random dustbin of history and handed over the keys to our hearts and minds to a top tier of incredibly clever tricksters and fraudsters — for what they do is largely within the law (albeit their law). Yet at the same time we expect toothless governments to control a market that refuses to be regulated. Sometimes I wonder whether it’s even in a government’s interest to regulate the tech industry (see Ireland’s pushback on Apple back taxes).

Forget government and find the delete button

To their credit, UK parliamentarians have summoned Zuckerberg to answer questions about whether Facebook previously provided “misleading” evidence on the risk to user data. Power play? Yeah, well, let’s say Zuckerberg graces London with his presence. But what’s to stop him for providing yet more misleading evidence? After all, misleading the public is built into social media by design. Try finding the “delete account” button on Facebook — or many other apps, for that matter — and you’ll see what I mean. Plus there is precedence: Look back at the tech tax scandal. Did any government intervention ever fix that? Hardly.

So, if you want to reign in Facebook’s control over your life and personal data, there is but one way and that is to find that hidden “delete account” button. The Verge has posted a handy article on this and advises you to first download a copy of your Facebook data. The option is in “Settings,” and you’ll need to click “Start My Archive.” When you’re done, try this link to delete your account for good. Whatever you do, don’t login again, or your account may be reactivated. Instead, sit back, and reconnect with your old analog self.

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The biography that Trump could not stop https://dailynewsegypt.com/2018/03/21/biography-trump-not-stop/ https://dailynewsegypt.com/2018/03/21/biography-trump-not-stop/#respond Wed, 21 Mar 2018 09:00:44 +0000 https://dailynewsegypt.com/?p=654265 New York, NY—Rarely was there so much expectation for the appearance of a book as is the case of Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House of the North American journalist Michael Wolff. And never before were so many copies sold so quickly. Before its appearance, the book and its e-book version had reached …

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New York, NY—Rarely was there so much expectation for the appearance of a book as is the case of Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House of the North American journalist Michael Wolff. And never before were so many copies sold so quickly.

Before its appearance, the book and its e-book version had reached the top of sales on Amazon.com and the Apple iBooks Store. By 8 January, more than one million copies had been sold. One of the earliest criticisms was that of Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea; one of the most widespread memes on the internet shows him laughing hysterically while leafing through the book.

Fire and Fury describes, in a devastating way, US President Donald Trump’s behaviour in the White House and the aggressive and chaotic interactions among his advisers. In addition, it has extremely negative comments about President Trump’s family, and about Steve Bannon, one of his closest advisers, currently in disgrace.

For the White House, it was a resounding failure to try to stop its publication and massive distribution. By his actions, Trump showed that he was also trying to suppress freedom of expression, guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States.

The interior of the palace

Wolff had unprecedented access to government officials for writing his book. He said he conducted 200 interviews, “in order to understand life in the White House through people closest to the president.”

According to him, he had an almost permanent seat in an armchair of the White House, an assertion that has been rejected by Sara Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, one of the most hated people in the United States for her defence of President Trump.

This book does not analyse the policies carried out by the Trump government, nor the justification for them. On the contrary, the author is more interested in personalities and palace intrigues. Undoubtedly, one of the most important personages is Steve Bannon, a true “grey eminence” of the beginning of the Trump presidency.

Bannon always had a close relationship with Trump until the revelations of this book made him a pariah in the White House. He extends his criticism to Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, and her husband, Jared Kushner, both of whom he calls “Jarvanka.” The description of both cannot be more pejorative. Ivanka is defined as “stupid as a brick” and Jared is called “the butler”.

Among the revelations of the book is that Donald Trump did not really want to be president, and when he heard the results, “it seemed like he had seen a ghost.” His wife Melania was not interested in her husband being president either, perhaps anticipating the considerable invasion of their privacy that this would entail.

Challenged skills

Even more damaging to the president is Wolff’s claim that of all the people he spoke to in the White House, virtually none believe that Donald Trump has the capacity to be the leader of the United States.

Although the book has weaknesses, such as lack of a source for some assertions, it also has an advantage: it fully confirms preconceived ideas about the American president. Wolff’s intention is that the revelations in this book will help destroy the presidency of Donald Trump. It is more likely, however, that the end of Donald Trump will be determined by his own stupidity.

Dr. César Chelala, a physician and writer, is a winner of several journalism awards.

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A war of succession https://dailynewsegypt.com/2018/03/21/a-war-of-succession/ https://dailynewsegypt.com/2018/03/21/a-war-of-succession/#respond Wed, 21 Mar 2018 08:00:40 +0000 https://dailynewsegypt.com/?p=654273 On 12 October, the two warring Palestinian organisations, Fatah and Hamas, signed an agreement, under the auspices of the Egyptian Intelligence Service, to carry out a major national reconciliation. According to this agreement, Hamas was supposed to hand over local governance in the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian government headed by Rami Hamdallah. The Cairo …

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On 12 October, the two warring Palestinian organisations, Fatah and Hamas, signed an agreement, under the auspices of the Egyptian Intelligence Service, to carry out a major national reconciliation. According to this agreement, Hamas was supposed to hand over local governance in the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian government headed by Rami Hamdallah.

The Cairo gathering between the representatives of the two factions had raised high hopes among the Palestinians that, at long last, Palestinian leaders in the Palestinian Authority and in Hamas had finally come to realise that the time had come to achieve this national reconciliation, in the midst of radical geopolitical shifts and changes in the Middle Eastern landscape.

Egypt has stood to gain, from a strategic perspective, from the success of these reconciliation efforts. The deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza, plus the sanctions that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (Abou Mazen) had imposed last year on the Hamas government, have contributed to more deterioration in basic services for the people of Gaza. On the other hand, a government of national accord, governing both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, in the context of the Oslo Accords, would help Egypt, tremendously, in its war on terrorism in the northeast of the Sinai Peninsula. In the meantime, Cairo has always warned that the perpetuation of the artificial separation of Gaza from the West Bank, and the consequent perpetuation of the political divisions between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, would render any attempts to resume peace negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis difficult, if not impossible. All the more so, while the Trump administration has been signalling that it would come up with a set of peace proposals, dubbed by some senior American officials, as the “deal of the century,” the Egyptian line of thought has been that the Palestinians should seal their national reconciliation to be in a much stronger position the moment the Americans put their peace proposals, officially, on the table.

Last month, an Egyptian delegation travelled to Gaza to help the Palestinians overcome their differences and solve some problems in the implementation of their reconciliation agreement. In the meantime, a Hamas delegation, headed by Ismail Haniyeh, came to Cairo for the same purpose.

All these efforts almost came to naught. On Tuesday 13 March, the Palestinian prime minister, Rami Hamdallah, had just crossed the Israeli crossing of Eretz to inaugurate a water treatment plant that would serve 400,000 Palestinians, when a bomb exploded, in an apparent assassination attempt. A second bomb, a few metres away, failed to detonate, seemingly because of a technical failure on the part of the assassins. So far, no one has claimed responsibility, and it is not certain that someone will. In such cases, the immediate questions revolve around who was behind such an attempt? Who stands to gain? Another question has been whether it was truly an assassination plot, that had gone awry, or was it intended as a message? If it is the latter, then, who is the addressee and who is the addressing party?

Speculation abounds, ranging from accusing the Israelis to various Palestinian factions, to dissenters, be they in Fatah, Hamas, or even from the ranks of the Palestinian Authority itself. Be that as it may, two things stand certain. One relates to a major important question on everyone’s mind about who would succeed Mahmoud Abbas as the leader of the Palestinian national movement and as chairperson of the Palestinian Authority. The other deals with the consequences of the assassination attempt on the Egyptian-led reconciliation efforts.

Pending the final results of an official investigation that hasn’t seriously begun, it is extremely difficult to designate, without a shadow of a doubt, who was behind the plot to assassinate the Palestinian prime minister. Or whether the whole thing was a message to the leaders of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, put together, that “we could get at you,” despite the security control that Hamas has in the Gaza Strip, and the aim is to wrest control of Gaza from Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, to turn it into a “jihadi” enclave linking with terrorists operating in Sinai.

Majid Faraj, the Palestinian Authority intelligence chief, who was in Hamdallah’s motorcade when the bomb exploded, noted that Hamas continued to “bear responsibility for ensuring the safety of the land,” without directly blaming Hamas for the attempt on Hamdallah’s life.

Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum said the attempt aimed at striking “efforts to achieve unity and reconciliation.” Hamas issued a statement immediately after the bomb explosion in which it condemned the “crime of targeting the Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah.”

The Palestinian prime minister vowed that the bomb explosion that targeted his motorcade “will never prevent us from getting rid of the bitter division.” He added, “in spite of the explosion today (13 March 2018), this won’t stop us carrying on with our mission to achieve unity and end the split.”

In Washington DC, Jason Greenblatt, the White House’s Middle East envoy, made a statement which said that the attack on Hamdallah “demonstrates that Hamas is profoundly unfit to govern Gaza.” Moreover, the United Nations special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, Nikolay Mladenov, stressed that Hamas is responsible for enabling the Palestinian government to work “without fear of intimidation, harassment, and violence.”

The failed attack on the motorcade of the Palestinian prime minister has demonstrated that the situation in the Palestinian territories is becoming more insecure and unstable. It is difficult to say whether this attack would prove to be the firing shot in a destabilisation campaign that aims to achieve two objectives. The first is to thwart the reconciliation efforts, led by Egypt, and the second is to prepare the Palestinian national scene for a bitter struggle for power prior to designating and electing the future leader of the Palestinian national movement, and in the same token, who would be the next president of the Palestinian Authority, once President Mahmoud Abbas exits the scene for one reason or another. In other words, who would take the place of the late Yasser Arafat, the undisputed historic symbol of the national struggle of the Palestinian people to establish the State of Palestine?

The war of succession is on within the Palestinian organisations, especially Fatah, with Arab countries and regional powers in the background, at a time of great uncertainty as to the future of the Palestinian question and the Middle East peace process, a process that has been moribund for several years.

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A risky venture in the Middle East https://dailynewsegypt.com/2018/03/14/risky-venture-middle-east/ https://dailynewsegypt.com/2018/03/14/risky-venture-middle-east/#respond Wed, 14 Mar 2018 09:00:11 +0000 https://dailynewsegypt.com/?p=653530 According to a New York Times article, published on Monday 12 March, the White House is expected to wrap up its much-awaited peace plan for the Middle East. The plan would deal with the major questions of borders, security, refugees, and the status of Jerusalem. According to three senior officials in the United States government, …

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According to a New York Times article, published on Monday 12 March, the White House is expected to wrap up its much-awaited peace plan for the Middle East. The plan would deal with the major questions of borders, security, refugees, and the status of Jerusalem. According to three senior officials in the United States government, President Donald Trump’s administration is actually adding the finishing touches to this plan, and Trump is expected to present it. However, no date has been set for the announcement thus far. But it will be sooner rather than later.

The Trump administration has been working on this plan for a year now, although few details are known about its general contour and the specifics, if any. Absent is the basic notion of a two-state solution unless the Israelis and the Palestinians would adopt it.

Last week, Benjamin Netanyahu was in Washington DC to attend the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) where he delivered a speech that was meant to save him, politically, in Israel in light of legal problems and talk, on and off, of snap elections. Similarly, he used the speech to relegate the Palestinian question to a low level of priority compared to the “existential threat” that Iran poses to Israel according to his vision of the Middle East today. In this respect, he had nothing new to say that he had not said early this year at the World Economic Forum in Davos and the Munich Security Conference last month.

He met Trump during his visit to Washington and the question of Iran and the Iranian nuclear deal signed between the P5+1: the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), signed in July 2015 and going into effect six months later, was the topic of the hour. The two sides agreed to cooperate in order to convince the European Union to go along with the American position, supported by Israel, to introduce amendments to the JCPOA. In an interview with Fox News television channel on Sunday 11 March, the Israeli prime minister reiterated that the major threat to Israel in the Middle East is “Iran, Iran, Iran.” He even went as far as alleging that Israel is defending the world from Iran, which he accused of seeking to dominate the world.

This confluence of developments both within Israel and across the Middle East, with a looming confrontation between Israel and Iran in Syria and Lebanon, as well as pro-Iranian groups, like Hezbollah in Lebanon as an example, does not augur well to a strong start for the American peace plan when officially presented. In the meantime, the spectre of early elections in Israel would surely complicate matters for American negotiators when they begin pushing the Israelis to accept the plan.

The three senior American officials who drafted the plan, Jared Kushner, Jason Greenblatt, and the American ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, had met with Netanyahu on Sunday 4 March to discuss, in general terms, the basic elements of the plan. In the weekly cabinet meeting of the Israeli government on Sunday 11 March, the Israeli prime minister told his cabinet that there is no “concrete” American peace plan, a statement that leaves many perplexed on the true intentions of Netanyahu and his governing coalition vis-a-vis this plan.

On the other hand, the Trump administration will have a difficult time selling its peace ideas to the Palestinians, who have been touring world capitals in an attempt to find a new mechanism for peace that would not be, solely, dependent on American diplomacy in the peace process. In the wake of the Trump decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the later announcement by the US Department of State last month that the American embassy would move to its new premises in Jerusalem next May, the Palestinian Authority is in no mood to appear as an appeaser of the Trump administration. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, the Palestinians declined an official invitation from the United States government to participate in a conference organised by the American administration on the humanitarian situation in Gaza, and how to ease it. Of course, boycotting such a conference would not help the Palestinian question. On the contrary, it would complicate further the already tense relations between the Palestinian Authority and the Trump administration. Regardless of the reasons, Palestinian engagement with the White House is still important and relevant. On receiving Netanyahu on Monday 5 March at the White House, President Trump said the Palestinians “are wanting to come back to the table very badly.”

The Gaza conference aims at stabilising the situation after many serious warnings from United Nations officials that the humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip have become humanly unbearable. In an op-ed article in the Washington Post, Jason Greenblatt emphasised that Hamas is responsible for the deterioration in living conditions in Gaza, but such a responsibility does not “absolve us of the responsibility to try to help.” He added, “we are beholden to find a path to a brighter future for the Palestinians of Gaza.” Palestinian participation in such a conference would have provided the Palestinian Authority to present its case to the White House directly on the Palestinian and Arab positions with regard to any peace deal between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Being absent could be good domestic politics in the West Bank and Gaza but is no substitute for serious diplomatic engagement with the United States and the European Union. All the more so, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has heard from European leaders that the American role in the peace process remains indispensable.

In explaining Palestinian absence from the Gaza conference, a senior Palestinian official, Ahmed Majdalani, was quoted in the New York Times, on Monday 12 March, saying that the Palestinians turned down the American invitation because the American role was to “liquidate the Palestinian national project.”

Against this background, the American administration has serious homework to do before presenting its peace plan to the Israelis and Palestinians. Timing is of utmost importance. The present times are not, I am afraid, most opportune to submit peace proposals to Israeli and Palestinian leaders who are not certain to remain in charge, and with unstable political situations both in Israel and in Palestine (the West Bank and Gaza).

Hussein Haridy is a former assistant to the foreign minister

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The economy tiring us: What after the presidential election? https://dailynewsegypt.com/2018/03/14/economy-tiring-us-presidential-election/ https://dailynewsegypt.com/2018/03/14/economy-tiring-us-presidential-election/#respond Wed, 14 Mar 2018 08:00:07 +0000 https://dailynewsegypt.com/?p=653535 There is no alternative to focusing on investment and stopping debt

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Egypt is currently in the run-up to the presidential election after President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s four years in office between 2014 and 2018, in which he is seeking another term. Frankly, he will win, in light of the absence of a real competitor. The election is a mere procedure that will end with another term for the incumbent. But what then? What is the situation of the Egyptian economy during the coming period? Will it move at a better pace and faster than before? These are questions imposed on the political and economic arenas. Will citizen life improve? Will public services, like education, health, and transportation become better? Will prices fall? Will the wheel of production turn, exports rise, and tourism improve? Will the dollar exchange rate stabilise or shift slightly throughout 2018? Will Egypt stop borrowing and set clear plans for repayment? Will we go back to the International Monetary Fund? Will the real estate sector fall into a recession and move towards a bubble after the price increases, or will it resist for several years? Will the stock market see another rise? Will some public companies be listed on the stock market in the last quarter of 2018?

Many questions arise in our minds. In my opinion, the economy will witness remarkable movement in the last quarter of 2018 because after the end of the presidential election period and Al-Sisi wins a new term in office, political and security stability will inevitably be enhanced for the coming four years. The major projects that the state embarked on will be completed. On the other hand, the private sector should be encouraged once again to promote sustainable development alongside the government. The path should be paved for it and partnership with the government should be stimulated, especially in the fields of infrastructure, transport and utilities, as well as in education and health. The private sector should be encouraged to produce and export, as wages, interest on loans, and subsidies account for over 75% of the Egyptian budget.

Ratio of private investments to total investments

There is no alternative to increasing private to total investment to about 70% (now between 50-55%), which is at least 20% higher. Foreign direct investment should rise to 25-30% of the gross domestic product. There should be foreign missions to target specific companies and expand the establishment of economic zones developed by certain countries such as the Russian zone. There should also be a Chinese and a Korean zone, so the companies of these countries will develop and attract their companies in various fields to work in these areas. Egypt should become a centre for attracting investments as it seeks to be a regional hub for logistics and financial services in light of the development of the Suez Canal Economic Zone.

Government efforts should be intensified to encourage domestic and foreign private sector investments as they are a powerful catalyst for growth along with production and trade. They are also a major source of increased employment and a way to increase the state’s resources of duties, taxes, and foreign currency, as well as raising the transfer of knowledge and technology. Hence, improving the environment of the economy and investment are very important during the coming period, along with explaining the developments and economic vision of the government in local and international forums.

We should be aware that increasing debt and interest, coupled with poor resources, could create additional pressure on hard currency resources and could push the pound to depreciate against the US dollar. There is speculation that the value of the pound will fall by 10-15% throughout 2018.

We should also quickly set up a sovereign fund for the state to benefit from the expertise of the countries that preceded us in this regard. The fund should manage the assets of the state and, to maximise the benefit from them, they should be exploited in the best aspects that generate income for the state and increase its resources. The priorities of spending should be reviewed and rationed.

The Investment Law, capital market amendments, Bankruptcy Law, and communication with local and potential investors at home and abroad should be accommodated with investment expansions or new investments, explaining the advantages of investing in Egypt and the state’s commitment to encouraging investment and investors through the system of incentives and guarantees approved by Egyptian laws, while continuing the reform efforts. The platforms of businesspersons’ associations and chambers of commerce should be used as allies to encourage investments in Egypt during their promotional campaigns. This should be along with increasing coordination with ministries concerned with the investment climate and investment opportunities.

What we need is reform and awareness.

Ibrahim Mustafa is a co-founder and partner at Masarat Business Investment and Development

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The economy tiring us, Episode 71: Journey to Miami and the world of blockchain https://dailynewsegypt.com/2018/03/07/economy-tiring-us-episode-71-journey-miami-world-blockchain/ https://dailynewsegypt.com/2018/03/07/economy-tiring-us-episode-71-journey-miami-world-blockchain/#respond Wed, 07 Mar 2018 14:00:35 +0000 https://dailynewsegypt.com/?p=652813 It is no wonder that a number of countries, corporations, and major banks have begun to consider the adoption of dealing with blockchain and the related cryptocurrencies as means of payment. Some European countries, such as Germany, have announced the adoption of encrypted currencies as a means of payment. Venezuela created a new currency linked …

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It is no wonder that a number of countries, corporations, and major banks have begun to consider the adoption of dealing with blockchain and the related cryptocurrencies as means of payment. Some European countries, such as Germany, have announced the adoption of encrypted currencies as a means of payment. Venezuela created a new currency linked to oil; a crypto-oil currency. Moreover, HSBC aims to adopt the technology of blockchain at its branches. The banking even considered using it for national recording of data, theoretically, given its high levels of confidentiality and safety.

Why? Because blockchain technology is of high quality, safety, and speed. It is impossible to be hacked. It can be adapted according to need. And it is flexible to meet all different clients’ needs. It has become an important resource for companies, and even many countries, of which some have started to impose taxes on it, such as Australia, while others made the technology tax exempt. In addition, some of the currencies created through it have become a tool for fund raising and repayment of debts and obligations. It has also become a tool to repatriate corporate profits smoothly and at lower fees. There are companies that use it for their logistics system, such as China’s Alibaba Group.

On the level of sustainable development, it will become an effective tool to facilitate communication between the branches of creditors or international institutions in the implementation of the goals of sustainable development. It is also an important link for decentralisation, and sometimes has contributed to reducing the gender gap. It is also an effective mechanism to accelerate financial inclusion and reduce dealing with cash.

There are recent statistics, released in March, that indicate that 60% of those surveyed in the world of finance and investment believe that the technology is spreading quickly and that those who lag in keeping up with it will become “old fashioned”. This advanced technology will spread more rapidly during the coming period, both at the level of countries and companies.

I have been in Miami for a couple of days and I have been meeting with those who have been working in this field since 2009, with the launch of bitcoin and blockchain, along with the technologies related to creating Ethereum. In the currency market, both are encrypted, but Ethereum differs in terms of having its own blockchain technology. Bitcoin, for example, cannot be created from the Ethereum blockchain and vice versa. And exchange between them is done in the virtual customer markets only. If you have Ethereum to buy and sell, you can use bitcoin as a platform and vice versa.

Ethereum blockchain are also smart contracts. This is not something found in the bitcoin technology. This distinction is only for understanding. Note that the inventor of Ethereum was a mind without money and was borrowing money to create this technology and its currency. Where is he now? He has become one of the rich clique. The world leads creativity and we imitate. The world opens the way for creativity. We are willing to use what they create.

At the level of security and safety, it is at a high level that cannot be hacked. The mining farms of blockchain use a large number of hacking technology experts to ensure that it is not hacked, and it is strange that they are all genius young people. Furthermore, the complexity of the codes they use, in addition to the multiplicity of dealers and their locations and the multiplicity of their devices and thus the servers they use, make it difficult to hack any blockchain transaction. Companies also continue to modernise their equipment and their expertise in the technology.

This global level of safety, speed, confidentiality, and distance from the procedural complexities created a general acceptance and confidence by the customers of this technology, which made it impose itself on governments and companies large and small. It has also become a source of increased income for individuals. A technology based on electricity to achieve all these benefits and investments is not as large as in the past when compared to the return achieved by the time factor.

It seems that this technology will lead to change in the world in all sectors (education, health, money, banking, logistics, transportation, retail, and restaurants, etc). Egypt, its banks, and companies must now move quickly to follow this huge development and maximise its benefits. This is especially since some Arab countries have begun to take serious steps. Egypt should be a regional centre for this technology in the Middle East and Africa. It should also become an international logistics hub. This means that we also think of Egypt as a regional centre for financial services as well. Egypt should have its own cryptocurrency—because Egypt can.

What we need is reform and awareness.

Ibrahim Mustafa Co-Founder and Partner at Masarat Business Invest- ment and Development

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A strengthened alliance https://dailynewsegypt.com/2018/03/07/a-strengthened-alliance/ https://dailynewsegypt.com/2018/03/07/a-strengthened-alliance/#respond Wed, 07 Mar 2018 13:30:06 +0000 https://dailynewsegypt.com/?p=652805 Leaving behind his mounting legal problems, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flew to Washington last Saturday to attend the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the powerful pro-Israeli lobby in the United States. On his five-day visit, Netanyahu met with President Donald Trump and congressional leaders. The White House meeting …

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Leaving behind his mounting legal problems, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flew to Washington last Saturday to attend the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the powerful pro-Israeli lobby in the United States. On his five-day visit, Netanyahu met with President Donald Trump and congressional leaders.

The White House meeting with the American president is the second for Netanyahu. Last year, less than two months after President Trump was sworn in, the Israeli prime minister was the first Middle Eastern leader to meet with the American president. The second visit was described by an American official as “a routine check-in meeting.” Notwithstanding this characterisation, the visit demonstrates the ever-growing alliance between the United States and Israel.

American-Israeli relations have grown by leaps and bounds in the course of last year. The Trump administration, even though it had promised the Arabs and the Palestinians an elusive “deal of the century” from day one in office, it has adopted unprecedented pro-Israeli positions, even by American standards.

Unlike previous American administrations, the present administration has recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and the American embassy will be relocated to that city. When President Trump announced this decision, much to the consternation of the world, the American Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson had said that the move would not take place before two to three years. However, last February, the State Department took everyone by surprise by announcing that the United States decided to move its diplomatic mission to Jerusalem next May to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the State of Israel.

In the meantime, these decisions have not been accompanied by measures to help the Palestinian cause and convey a certain resemblance of balance in American attitudes towards the Palestinians and the Israelis. In the early days of the Trump administration, American officials had stressed that they would come up with the “deal of the century” before year’s end. To the dismay of the Palestinians and the Arabs, the administration announced in the last quarter of 2017 that it would postpone its peace proposals to the first three months of 2018. Lately, one administration official pointed out that the American government “will release the plan when it is done and the time is right.” In the meantime, the Trump administration cut off some of its financial assistance to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) that is responsible for the welfare of Palestinian refugees living in camps in Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon. Furthermore, Washington also reduced its financial aid to the Palestinian Authority, in an apparent bid to coerce the authority to go along with the American peace plan, when offered.

The Netanyahu s visit to Washington this time was not geared towards peace with the Palestinians, but rather, the overall geopolitical situation in the Middle East, and, particularly, the growing influence of Iran in Syria, and its presumed permanent presence in Syria when the guns will grow silent.

Netanyahu has made Iran and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the nuclear deal of July 2015 among the Group of 5+1(the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany) and Iran his main security agenda, portraying Tehran as a regional hegemon out to destroy Israel, and control the whole Middle East. He even has asserted, on many occasions, that his country has what he calls “Sunni allies” among the Arab states, ready to work with the United States and Israel, to confront and contain Iran and its regional proxies.

The American policies towards Iran have become completely aligned with that of Netanyahu. Expectedly, the senior American officials who are scheduled to speak at the annual policy conference of AIPAC—Vice President Mike Pence and Ambassador Nikki Haley, the permanent representative of the United States to the United Nations in New York—are going to identify with the Israeli positions concerning Iran, and stress, one more time, the iron-clad commitment of the Trump administration to defending Israel, and to push for a revision of the JCPOA to meet Israeli concerns in this respect. The administration would coordinate with the Israelis to approach more energetically the European Union to form a common front against Iran through an overhaul of the nuclear deal.

From an Egyptian, Palestinian, and Arab point of view, the second visit of Netanyahu to the White House will not make much of a difference. On the contrary, it could herald more insecurity and instability in the Middle East, and military confrontation across the region.

Hussein Haridy is former assistant to the foreign minister

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The wisdom of idiots: a brief morality tale https://dailynewsegypt.com/2018/03/07/wisdom-idiots-brief-morality-tale/ https://dailynewsegypt.com/2018/03/07/wisdom-idiots-brief-morality-tale/#respond Wed, 07 Mar 2018 13:00:07 +0000 https://dailynewsegypt.com/?p=652806 Idries Shah was a teacher in the Sufi tradition whose seminal work was The Sufis. He presented Sufism as a universal form of wisdom that predated Islam. In his writings, he frequently used teaching stories and humour to transmit this philosophy. His stories contained multiple layers of meaning and were written with the idea that …

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Idries Shah was a teacher in the Sufi tradition whose seminal work was The Sufis. He presented Sufism as a universal form of wisdom that predated Islam. In his writings, he frequently used teaching stories and humour to transmit this philosophy. His stories contained multiple layers of meaning and were written with the idea that they could trigger insight and self-reflection in the reader.

His son Tahir Shah quotes the explanation his father gave him at the end of a story: “These stories are technical documents; they are like maps, or kind of blueprints. What I do is show people how to use the maps, because they have forgotten.”

The story Bahaudin and the Wanderer from his book Wisdom of the Idiots is a good example of this assertion and may have some bearing on events taking place now in the United States. The story tells what happened when Bahaudin el-Shah, great teacher of the Naqshbandi dervishes (members of a Muslim, specifically Sufi, religious order who have taken vows of poverty and austerity) met a colleague in the great square of Bokhara, an ancient city in the central Asian country of Uzbekistan.

His colleague was a wandering Kalendar of the Malamati—Malamatis were a Muslim mystic group active in 9th century who believed in the value of self-blame—also known as the “Blameworthy”. Bahaudin, who was surrounded by his disciples, asked the traveller in the usual Sufi way where he came from. The traveller, grinning foolishly, replied, “I have no idea.” Several of Bahaudin’s disciples murmured their disapproval of this lack of respect for their teacher.

Unfazed, Bahaudin continued, “where are you going?” The dervish, almost shouting at him, replied “I do not know.” By then a large crowd had gathered and was intently following the dialogue. “What is good?” asked Bahaudin. “I do not know,” replied the traveller. “What is evil?” continued Bahaudin. “I have no idea,” replied the traveller. “What is right?” asked Bahaudin. “Whatever is good for me,” replied the traveller. “What is wrong?” asked again Bahaudin. “Whatever is bad for me,” said the traveller.

At this point, the crowd, irritated by the frivolous responses of the traveller, pelted him with rocks and drove him away. He left, striding purposefully in a direction that led nowhere, as far as anyone knew.

On watching these events taking place, Bahaudin shouted to his followers, “fools, this man is acting the part of humanity. While you were despising him, he was deliberately demonstrating heedlessness as each of you does, all unaware, every day of your lives.”

The reader is invited to replace the names in this story with those he considers appropriate to the present situation in Washington DC.

Dr César Chelala is an international public health consultant and writer.

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Reconciliation efforts resumed https://dailynewsegypt.com/2018/02/28/reconciliation-efforts-resumed/ https://dailynewsegypt.com/2018/02/28/reconciliation-efforts-resumed/#respond Wed, 28 Feb 2018 12:00:55 +0000 https://dailynewsegypt.com/?p=652035 An Egyptian delegation arrived on Sunday 25 February to Gaza, in an effort to bring closer together Fatah and Hamas. Through an Egyptian mediation effort, the two Palestinian factions had signed an agreement on 12 October 2017 in Cairo, committing themselves to carrying out, in letter and spirit, a previous reconciliation accord reached back in …

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An Egyptian delegation arrived on Sunday 25 February to Gaza, in an effort to bring closer together Fatah and Hamas. Through an Egyptian mediation effort, the two Palestinian factions had signed an agreement on 12 October 2017 in Cairo, committing themselves to carrying out, in letter and spirit, a previous reconciliation accord reached back in May 2011.

The Egyptian delegation would meet with various ministers and high officials from the government of national accord that represents the Palestinian National Authority in Ramallah. The purpose is to help the two Palestinian parties get over their disagreements as to how to proceed against a backdrop of deep distrust among the officials of both. Add to that the interference of outside third parties who have their own agendas to defend in inter-Palestinian politics. Maybe it was a sheer coincidence that the arrival of the Egyptian delegation coincided with the presence of a Qatari diplomat who openly blamed, unabashedly, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority for the plight of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Or that Hamas is playing a risky game of playing an Arab country against another, and Arab countries against regional powers, namely Turkey and Iran.

The Egyptian delegation flew to Gaza after a Hamas delegation had held discussions with officials from the Egyptian General Intelligence Directorate for the last two weeks. According to Hamas sources, the discussions were constructive and fruitful. In these talks, the Hamas delegation was quite open to accelerating the reconciliation efforts, however, it stressed the necessity for the Palestinian Authority to rescind measures that it had adopted vis-a-vis Hamas, for example, not shouldering the cost of electricity provided by Israel to Gaza. Another serious problem is the rehiring of 42,000 employees appointed by Hamas to the civil administration in the strip.

According to United Nations officials, the humanitarian situation in Gaza has deteriorated to a degree that the strip is on the verge of a complete collapse. The United Nations is striving to raise €500m to meet the basic needs of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, in refugee camps, and in the West Bank. Of course, the American decision to cut off financial aid to the Palestinian Authority, on the one hand, and to the United Nations Relief and Works Organisation (UNRWA), on the other hand, has contributed to the worsening of the humanitarian situation of the Palestinian people everywhere.

Egyptian officials tried to arrange for a meeting between Hamas and representatives of Fatah while the Hamas delegation was still in Cairo, but the latter laid down some conditions for such a meeting to take place. One of the conditions was related to the complete takeover of all ministries in Gaza by the Palestinian government of national accord. Hamas said it would be ready to oblige. Hopefully, the official takeover of the ministries in Gaza would take place while the Egyptian delegation is still there. Such a step would be a breakthrough, a much needed one at that, to convey an unmistakable message to the Gazans, and the Palestinian people in general, that the Palestinian national reconciliation would become an irrefutable reality on the ground. Surely this is what Moussa Abou Marzouk, the Hamas official in charge of the reconciliation process, had in mind when he emphasised that the Palestinian people should not lose hope in the ultimate success of the ongoing reconciliation efforts and for “national unity.”

It goes without saying that a Palestinian national unity government has become an absolute necessity, not only to alleviate the disastrous humanitarian situation of Palestinians, particularly in the Gaza Strip, but also to be in a stronger position to deal with the expected American peace proposals that Ambassador Nikki Haley, the US permanent representative to the United Nations in New York, referred to in her appearance before the Institute of Politics of the University of Chicago last Thursday (22 February). She did not give details, but said the Palestinians and the Israelis will not like it nor hate it.

The Palestinians, united under one political authority, should be ready to talk peace when the time comes.

Hussein Haridy is a former assistant to the foreign minister

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A word I shouldn’t use https://dailynewsegypt.com/2018/02/28/word-shouldnt-use/ https://dailynewsegypt.com/2018/02/28/word-shouldnt-use/#respond Wed, 28 Feb 2018 11:30:15 +0000 https://dailynewsegypt.com/?p=652030 New York—Growing up in Argentina, I had an English teacher named Sarah, a kind and knowledgeable woman. Reading one of my papers, in which I called a character in the story “a despicable man,” she admonished me: “you shouldn’t use that word, César, it is too strong.” Now, decades later, I find that perhaps that …

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New York—Growing up in Argentina, I had an English teacher named Sarah, a kind and knowledgeable woman. Reading one of my papers, in which I called a character in the story “a despicable man,” she admonished me: “you shouldn’t use that word, César, it is too strong.” Now, decades later, I find that perhaps that word is not strong enough to describe the Florida legislators who overwhelmingly voted against a motion to consider legislation that would “ban assault rifles and large capacity magazines”. That this happened days after the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida in which 17 people died makes this even more ludicrous.

The legislators’ move came as teenage survivors of the Florida massacre watched the proceedings from the gallery. That wasn’t an obstacle for the GOP-controlled Florida House, who showed no shame and no regret for their actions. And I couldn’t help but wonder: do these people have children? Do they have grandchildren? And if they do, how can they act that way? As Sheryl Acquaroli, a junior from Stoneman Douglas told CNN after the 36-71 party-line vote: “it seemed almost heartless how they immediately pushed the button to say no.”

Their behaviour, though, is far from unique. Lawmakers at the national level toe the same line. Although they are mostly Republicans, some Democrats also show the same disregard for people’s lives and safety, even for their own children and colleagues. The sums involved in the NRA donations are staggering, by any standard. Millions of dollars are given to lawmakers to vote according to NRA dictates. And the legislators, lacking any sense of decency, follow them.

I look at a photograph of members of the Florida House, as they observe a moment of silence for the victims of massacre. I cannot help but think of the high degree of hypocrisy that it demonstrates. They feel sorry for the victims but are unable to do anything meaningful to control sales of guns in the country, now at an all-time level. An ad in The New York Times by two gun control advocacy groups shows a photo of students leaving their school in fear during the shooting and a quote from one of the survivors: “we’re children. You guys are the adults…get something done.”

They will not do what needs to be done to completely eradicate gun violence in the country. Too much money is at stake. And by now we all know that in the confrontation between money for political power and ethics, money always wins. That those who may become victims may be their own children doesn’t enter into their consciousness.

The following are the representatives that received most money from the NRA: John McCain (R, Arizona)—$7.74m; Richard Burr (R, North Carolina)—$6.99m; Roy Blunt (R, Missouri)—$4.55m; Thom Tillis (R, North Carolina)—$4.42m; Cory Gardner (R, Colorado)—$3.88m. That all of them should be Republicans shouldn’t surprise anybody now.

Alfonso Calderon, a MSDHS junior student, one of the survivors of the massacre and one of the leaders of the #NeverAgain movement, said at the Florida Capitol, “everybody should remember this, we are just children…we aren’t being taken seriously enough…but trust me, we understand. I was in a closet, locked, for four hours, with people whom I almost considered family crying and weeping and begging for their lives…I am extremely angry and sad. But I want everybody here to know that we will not be stopped, we will not be discouraged, we will not falter, and we will not stop this movement.”

As a society we have become oblivious to the suffering of others. That this lack of empathy is so clearly shown among those that are supposed to represent us is a sad commentary on the human condition.

Dr. César Chelala is an international public health consultant and writer. He is a winner of several journalism awards

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Egypt: A term of spending despite austerity https://dailynewsegypt.com/2018/02/21/egypt-term-spending-despite-austerity/ https://dailynewsegypt.com/2018/02/21/egypt-term-spending-despite-austerity/#comments Wed, 21 Feb 2018 09:00:06 +0000 https://dailynewsegypt.com/?p=651149 Life in Egypt did not, before 25 January, and still does not, after 30 June, live up to the aspirations of many of its inhabitants. Social welfare has been sacrificed on the altar of economic “reform”, as if that was the only hurdle impeding the government’s effectiveness to provide a decent life for all. For …

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Life in Egypt did not, before 25 January, and still does not, after 30 June, live up to the aspirations of many of its inhabitants. Social welfare has been sacrificed on the altar of economic “reform”, as if that was the only hurdle impeding the government’s effectiveness to provide a decent life for all.

For more than a year (mid-2015 to late 2016) there had been a shortage of foreign currency in Egypt, especially US dollars. The shortage had fuelled the black market due to the difficulty to obtain the American currency. Amid such a shortage, rumours erupted that there would be a devaluation of the Egyptian pound against the US dollar. Despite such panicking and destabilising information circulating, the government did not release any statements declaring its economic orientation at the time. Black market dealers then reacted by purchasing dollars at the highest possible price. That highly contributed to the current price of the US dollar against the Egyptian pound and thus to the present falling living conditions as the prices of necessary goods have doubled or even tripled since the pound was floated while wages and salaries stayed the same.

The minimum wage rests at EGP 1,200 though. That calls to mind the iconic dialogue between the president and a member of parliament. During his visit to Damietta (23 May 2017) to inaugurate the Furniture City there, President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi disparaged the said MP as he pled doe him to order the government to halt the then-awaited more austere measures of reducing energy subsidies. The MP also appealed to the president to urge the government to increase the minimum wage to EGP 3,000 in order to enable people to face the harsh economic conditions.

Further financial burdens were delivered. On 1 July 2017, the government approved and enforced the new value added tax (VAT), at 14%, which replaced the old sales tax (13%) on commodities and services, excluding 57 products. On communications and certain other commodities, another tax of 8% was added, both taxes jointly coming to 22%. Other taxes were frozen; 17 on May, the cabinet approved halting for three years the capital gains tax.

Bureaucratic austere actions with social impacts were taken too. In November 2016 the government issued an amended version of the Civil Service Law. The law look to downsize the 6.5 million employee bureaucracy that—according to Al- Sisi—can function with just 1 million workers. The law aims to “contain the wage bill, and to improve governance and the investment climate.”

A while back, on 6 August 2015, Al-Sisi inaugurated the newly dug waterway, commonly known as the New Suez Canal. The 35-kilometre waterway runs parallel to the 190-km main waterway of the original Suez Canal. The Suez Canal Authority stated that the newly dug waterway cost about $8bn, was funded by Egyptians only—through a domestic loan—and targets decreasing ships’ waiting hours from 18 to 11,  maximising revenues of the Suez Canal from $5.3bn at the time to $13.226bn by 2023, and to support the construction of developmental projects in the Suez Canal Economic Zone.

Despite having provided the treasury with revenues of $3.88bn during the period from July through March 2016, the Suez Canal’s revenues have fallen to $3.72bn during the same period of 2017. Economic expert Rashad Abdo denies the possibility that the new waterway could yield any economic prosperity soon, and assures that the Suez Canal’s success is in direct proportion to the volume of international trade. He also deemed insufficient the studies which preceded constructing the new waterway and the marketing campaign that preceded its inauguration.

Likewise, in March 2015, Housing Minster Mostafa Madbouly announced the state’s intention to construct a New Administrative Capital. Located about 45 km away from Cairo, to be constructed on 700 sqkm, and costing about $45bn over 12 years; the new capital aims to ease the Cairene scene of overcrowdedness and insufficiency of governance through moving the presidency, the, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the parliamentary headquarters to it along with other ministries by 2019. Certain ministries’ headquarters will still remain in Cairo, namely the Interior Ministry as it was moved to Cairo’s relatively upscale Fifth Settlement area last year. In addition, the New Administrative Capital Company—a joint stock company with an issued capital of EGP 20bn, owned by the Egyptian Armed Forces (51%) and the New Urban Communities Authority (49%)—provides luxurious utilities and targets attracting universities, businesses, and high-end inhabitants as the price per sqm starts at EGP 3500. Construction was supposed to be carried out by China State Construction Engineering Corporation, a Chinese state-owned construction company, with Egyptian authorities to carry out infrastructure works. However, in February 2017 negotiations between the Egyptian government and the said Chinese company were declared failed due to the inability to reach an agreeable price for construction per sqm that suits the Egyptian government. In that light, the government started seeking other alternatives, including selling portions to Egyptian and Gulf construction companies and signing a memorandum of understanding with China Fortune Land Development.

Contrarily, historians, architects, and intellectuals denied the efficiency of the new project on precedent, humane, and technical grounds. Khaled Fahmy, head of the history department at the American University in Cairo, and David Sims, an American economist and urban planner, argue that Cairo’s needs of upgrading its infrastructure should have been honoured before providing more developed infrastructure to new cities that usually fail to attract newcomers despite the enormous state support. Intellectuals, on the other hand, believe that constructing a new capital is an episode in a fail-safe series of governing persons’ self-isolation from, and abandonment of, the masses.

In lieu, in my opinion, it is unlikely the 30 June regime tried, within the president’s first term, to apply “unconventional” solutions wishing to establish a balance between saving its populism and honouring its foreign International Monetary Fund-related obligations. Therefore, amid relinquishing flows of foreign direct investment and tourism, the regime decided and resorted to creating and irrigating massive labour-intensive projects in hopes of both keeping the economy functioning and boosting investors’ confidence. However, with the volume of international trade relatively low, and with Cairo’s problems unsettled and needs neglected; Egypt might not reap the fruits of backing such projects with what they may mean in burdening citizens with further financial hindrances.

Islam M. Elwany is a legist, observer of political affairs and policy analyst

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Middle East on edge https://dailynewsegypt.com/2018/02/21/middle-east-edge/ https://dailynewsegypt.com/2018/02/21/middle-east-edge/#respond Wed, 21 Feb 2018 08:00:48 +0000 https://dailynewsegypt.com/?p=651141 The 54th edition of the Munich Security Conference (MSC) of 2018 convened in Germany from 16 February to 18 February. The MSC brought together more than 450 senior decision-makers from around the world, including heads of state, ministers, leading personalities of international and non-governmental organisations, as well as high-ranking representatives of industry, media, academia, and …

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The 54th edition of the Munich Security Conference (MSC) of 2018 convened in Germany from 16 February to 18 February. The MSC brought together more than 450 senior decision-makers from around the world, including heads of state, ministers, leading personalities of international and non-governmental organisations, as well as high-ranking representatives of industry, media, academia, and civil society, to engage in an intensive debate on current and future security challenges.

The central theme of this year’s conference “To the Brink — And Back?” dealt with European security and the challenges facing Europe and the European Union in a changing international security atmosphere.

European senior officials attempted to analyse the nature of the threats and challenges to European nations, and how to develop a kind of a security union among European powers, enabling Europe to be more self-reliant in defending its borders and protecting its security interests.

Although the overriding theme was Europe-centred, the war-monger Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, brought the atmosphere of war engulfing the Middle East region to the Munich conference’s halls. Netanyahu, whom the Israeli police have recently recommended to indict on various corruption charges, was seen using the MSC podium to divert international attention from the real issues, not only his legal troubles at home, but also his uncertain political future. Instead of tackling the increasingly worsening humanitarian crisis of Gaza’s 2 million residents because of the prolonged blockade laid by his government, or how his government would cooperate with the United States and the Arab Quartet—once Washington officially announces its blue print for peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis, Netanyahu chose to engage in labourious finger-pointing. He unsurprisingly went on singling out Iran as the only source of insecurity and instability in the Middle East, accusing Tehran of seeking regional hegemony. “Iran is the greatest threat to Israel’s security, to the stability of the region, and to the peace of the world,” Netanyahu remarked, warning that Iran should “not test Israel’s resolve” as he showed off what he said was part of a downed Iranian drone.

He further stressed that Israel will not “allow the Iranian regime to put a noose of terror around its neck.” He added that Iran, through “nefarious moves” in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, is trying to change the status quo in the Middle East. Furthermore, he warned the pro-Iranian militias and political forces in the region that Israel would not hesitate to act against Iran, “not just against Iran’s proxies”. Obviously, he meant Hezbollah.

On the other hand, Netanyahu’s warnings and threats were not only levelled against Iran, but he also talked harshly about Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad. He noted that for the last seven years, Israel has decided not to intervene in the Syrian civil war, however, if the Syrian government would allow an Iranian military presence on Syrian soil, then, Israel might change its non-alignment stance. In other words, it could resort to military force.

Seizing the unique chance of 500 statesmen and women from around the world gathered together under one roof, the Israeli prime minister repeated his well-known position regarding the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) signed between Iran, the P5+1 group, and the European Union on 14 July 2015 concerning Iran’s nuclear programme. Apart from his futile attempts to undermine the very rationale behind the deal, Netanyahu even called for a collective turnaround in stance, lest Iran, within 10 years from now, becomes a formidable nuclear force to be reckoned with.

Participating in the conference, former US Secretary of State John Kerry, a main architect of the nuclear deal, dismissed Netanyahu’s contention that Iran will be on its way to having a nuclear arsenal in 10 years, saying “that’s fundamentally not accurate.”

“We know what the world looks like without the Iran nuclear agreement,” Kerry said, asserting, “it’s not a better place.”

In response to Netanyahu’s remarks, Kerry said, “if your house is on fire, are you going to refuse to put it out because you are concerned it will light on fire again in 15 years?! Or are you going to put it out and use your time to prevent fire from sparking again?” Indeed, Kerry was categorical in denying Netanyahu’s allegations, saying it was “absolutely critical” to ensure the deal survives.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, who also participated in the conference, took the stage an hour after Netanyahu and called the Israeli leader’s presentation a “cartoonish circus…which does not even deserve the dignity of a response.”

However, Zarif responded to the remarks of White House National Security Adviser HR McMaster, in which he accused Iran of escalating a campaign to increase its influence in the Middle East by building and arming “Hezbollah-style” proxy armies in Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere as it has done in Lebanon. What is more, Zarif accused the US administration of using the conference to “revive hysteria” against his country.

If peace and security in the Middle East are to be achieved, which in turn, would move European security toward more solid ground, the Israeli policies in the region should change. Period! However, that possibility is far-fetched, it seems, as long as the Israeli government is vested in Netanyahu and his current far-right coalition.

Netanyahu’s remarks made in Munich leave no doubt that neither he nor his right-wing coalition are interested in peace or security in the Middle East. I am sure many of the participants at the conference left with the same impression.

Hussein Haridy is former assistant to the foreign minister

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Tillerson in town https://dailynewsegypt.com/2018/02/13/tillerson-in-town/ https://dailynewsegypt.com/2018/02/13/tillerson-in-town/#respond Tue, 13 Feb 2018 15:11:15 +0000 https://dailynewsegypt.com/?p=650362 United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson paid an official visit to Cairo, his first since he became America’s top diplomat a year ago, on Monday 12 February. The visit came as a part of a Middle Eastern tour for Tillerson that will also take him to Kuwait, Jordan, Lebanon, and, finally, Turkey. In Kuwait, …

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United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson paid an official visit to Cairo, his first since he became America’s top diplomat a year ago, on Monday 12 February. The visit came as a part of a Middle Eastern tour for Tillerson that will also take him to Kuwait, Jordan, Lebanon, and, finally, Turkey. In Kuwait, the American Secretary of State will participate in two important international conferences, one on the reconstruction of Iraq, and the second grouping the 74-member international coalition against the terrorist organisation, the “Islamic State”.

This Middle Eastern tour comes at a time of high uncertainty in the region in light of the faltering efforts to implement Security Council Resolution 2254 of December 2015 concerning Syria on the one hand, and the military escalation between Israel and Iran on the other hand. Last weekend saw the downing of an Israeli F-16 by Syrian air defence batteries on Saturday 10 February, which was followed by 12 Israeli attacks against what the Israelis claimed to be Iranian bases inside Syria. The reason for this unprecedented escalation was an Iranian-made drone violating Israeli airspace, according to the Israeli version of events. Both the Syrians and the Iranians denied that a drone was sent into Israeli skies from inside Syria.

In Cairo, Tillerson met with President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry separately. At a joint press conference between Shoukry and Tillerson, it was clear that the two sides showed a marked willingness to strengthen Egyptian-American relations in the years to come. The two governments agreed to resume the “strategic dialogue” between them. The Egyptian foreign minister said that it would take place in the second half of this year. It will not be the first round. Cairo and Washington had respectively hosted previous “strategic dialogue” sessions in the past four years. Moreover, the two sides would discuss engaging in the 2+2 formula whereby joint meetings of their respective foreign and defence ministers are held on a yearly basis.

The talks reflected a political will on the part of the two governments to go forward in the bilateral context, and to work together in search for political solutions in Syria as well as in Libya. Secretary Tillerson praised the role Egypt has been playing in these regards. As far as the Palestinian question is concerned, Tillerson reiterated the American commitment to push for a peace agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis; a peace that would be both just and comprehensive, as he put it.

The Egyptian-American talks discussed two sensitive questions, namely, human rights and non-governmental organisations. The American concerns in this respect are well known, and the discussions, hopefully, brought the two sides closer together on this matter. It goes without saying that these two matters will remain a main irritant in the bilateral relations. The international press coverage, particularly in the United States, of Egypt’s record on human rights and the role of civil society does not help the two countries in overcoming differences of opinion that have dogged the two sides in this respect for more than a decade now. However, it was interesting to note the full support that Secretary Tillerson expressed for Egypt’s fight against terrorism. He also expressed American support for the next presidential election in Egypt, due next month. He also called on Egyptians to vote.

The talks that Secretary Tillerson held in Cairo demonstrated the political will of the Egyptian and American governments to strengthen their bilateral relations in the years to come, and to work with other international and regional powers to reach political solutions to the crises in Syria and Libya, in addition to cooperate, further, in the fight against terrorism and extremism.

Of course, American-Egyptian relations have proved their resilience throughout the past four decades, however, the fast-changing regional scene will test this relationship in the future.

Hussein Haridy is former assistant to the foreign minister

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An oft-neglected Russian connection https://dailynewsegypt.com/2018/02/06/oft-neglected-russian-connection/ https://dailynewsegypt.com/2018/02/06/oft-neglected-russian-connection/#comments Tue, 06 Feb 2018 16:23:38 +0000 https://dailynewsegypt.com/?p=649521 One of the least-talked about questions is the coordination and cooperation between Israel and Russia in dealing with regional developments in the Middle East and how far this cooperation has gone in defending Israel’s security interests, particularly, against an expansionist Iran. With the Syrian government winning the war against terrorism and the armed groups which …

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One of the least-talked about questions is the coordination and cooperation between Israel and Russia in dealing with regional developments in the Middle East and how far this cooperation has gone in defending Israel’s security interests, particularly, against an expansionist Iran.

With the Syrian government winning the war against terrorism and the armed groups which rose to overthrow Al-Assad’s regime, Israel has warned against a permanent Iranian military presence in Syria. It has also raised alarm bells in relation with continuing Iranian support for Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Israeli security officials have been talking lately of Iran helping in the construction of an underground missile factory in Lebanon.

The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, flew to Moscow on Monday 29 January to discuss with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin the threats to Israeli security from the future plans of Iran in Syria and Lebanon.

In commenting on his talks with the Russian president, he said Israel is interested in knowing Iranian intentions in Syria once the war ends. He made clear that if the Iranians continue strengthening their presence in Syria, his country will respond appropriately. He was probably referring to the use of force to keep Iran away from the Syrian-Israeli borders. Furthermore, he brought up the introduction of advanced weaponry into Lebanon, reaffirming that this situation would pose a serious threat to the security of Israel. He added that Israel has information regarding a missile factory being set up on Lebanese territory. He went on to say that Israel is not interested in escalation. However, it would react if need be.

On the other hand, he praised the level of trust between him and the Russian president, and described their talks in Moscow as “deep, frank, and direct.” He stressed that there are common interests between the two countries, while there are differences in opinions concerning some questions, without elaborating on the nature of these differences nor on the areas of disagreement.

Netanyahu’s visit to the Russian capital was followed by a visit by a high-level Russian security and political delegation to Israel on 30 January. The Russian delegation was led by the chairperson of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, and included officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Defence. The purpose of the visit, which came upon an invitation from the Israeli chairperson of the National Security Council, was to coordinate the military cooperation between Moscow and Tel Aviv in Syria, and exchange notes on how best to manage the post-war strategic environment in Syria and the wider Middle East in a way to preserve the security of all parties concerned, and in a way that would guarantee the tenuous balance of power in the Middle East. It is interesting to note the presence of a token Russian force deployed along the Syrian-Israeli borders. The mission of this force is to act as a buffer between Syria and Israel on the one hand, and to prevent the deployment of Iranian forces or pro-Iranian militias along these borders. According to an agreement reached last summer between the Americans and the Russians, no presence of Iranian troops nor forces backed by Tehran are allowed within 40 kilometres from Israel’s borders.

Iran has become the major threat for both Israel and the United States in the Middle East. And evaluating their new strategic postures, the enemy in the years to come will be Iran and all pro-Iranian militias in the region and the Gulf area, including the Houthis in Yemen. The common understanding between the Americans and the Israelis is that Tehran is bent on establishing what they have termed a “Shiite arc” over the Middle East that would extend from Iran in the east to Lebanon in the west. The Israeli minister of defence spoke on 30 January of Iran working to establish a “hanging rope” around Israel. Of course, the statement by the foreign policy adviser of Iran’s supreme leader that Iran will always be present in “persecuted countries” like Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, a few days ago, is not reassuring from an American and Israeli point of view. On the contrary, it deepens Israeli fears of the true intentions of Iran: that it would have permanent military bases in Syria once the country’s war grinds to a halt.

The Russian connection that Israel has cultivated during the last seven years dissuades both the Israelis and the Iranians from miscalculating, and it spares the Middle East, including Egypt, an all-out regional war that would be devastating in its consequences for many years to come. Hopefully, both sides would realise that a military confrontation is the worst scenario for all parties concerned. It is doubtful that there would be winners. From all indications, so far, it seems that this is not lost on all great and regional powers at play in Syria and in the wider region.

Hussein Haridy is former assistant to the foreign minister

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The Arabs between Davos and Afrin https://dailynewsegypt.com/2018/01/31/arabs-davos-afrin/ https://dailynewsegypt.com/2018/01/31/arabs-davos-afrin/#respond Wed, 31 Jan 2018 13:30:52 +0000 https://dailynewsegypt.com/?p=648704 On January 20 2018, Turkish forces invaded Syrian territories in a military operation dubbed Olive Branch. The aim has been to clear Afrin from Kurdish “terrorists”—and Ankara vowed to continue its drive inside Syria to the Iraqi-Syrian borders to the east, to drive out all the Kurds from this vast stretch of territory. In so …

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On January 20 2018, Turkish forces invaded Syrian territories in a military operation dubbed Olive Branch. The aim has been to clear Afrin from Kurdish “terrorists”—and Ankara vowed to continue its drive inside Syria to the Iraqi-Syrian borders to the east, to drive out all the Kurds from this vast stretch of territory. In so doing, the Turkish government asked the United States to withdraw any American forces that could be stationed along its advance. To this, the Pentagon commented that it understands Turkish concerns and would be ready to discuss with the Turks the establishment of a “safe zone” along the Turkish-Syrian borders. The Turkish government replied that trust should be restored between Washington and Ankara before discussing such a proposal.

In the meantime, and while the Turkish forces were advancing through Syrian territory from west to east with insurgents from the so-called Free Syrian Army, no Arab government, nor the League of Arab States have condemned the Turkish military invasion of a sovereign Arab country. So far, not a single Arab country has called for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council to discuss such a blatant violation of the United Nations Charter.

While the Turkish forces were advancing in Syria, world attention was centred on the annual conference of the ultra-liberal World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland. Every year, statesmen, senior government officials, globalists, the believers in unbridled free trade and the “international liberal order”, and the CEOs of multinationals gather in the Swiss Alps to discuss the state of the world and to defend globalisation. This year, the guest of honour, if we may say so, was United States President Donald Trump, the first sitting American president to participate in this important annual gathering of the wealthiest and the mightiest, in 18 years. The last American president to address the World Economic Forum had been former president Bill Clinton in 2000. The participants were eager to hear from Trump for several reasons, the most important of which was the fact that in his first year in office, he decided to withdraw from the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and has clamoured “America First”, while attacking the “unfair” free trade deals that the United States has signed over the years. His image has been of an American president who does not believe in the rules of the “international liberal order”.

In his remarks on Friday 26 January, he tried to lay to rest the fears of the free traders and the globalists by stressing that “America First does not mean America alone.” He even hinted that he would be open to rejoining the TPP if its rules would be changed to accommodate American interests.

As far as American foreign policy is concerned, he touched on Iran, North Korea, and the “Islamic State” group (Daesh), and the fact that it lost almost 100% of the territory it had controlled in both Syria and Iraq. Moreover, it is interesting to note that he called on America’s partners to join the United States in confronting Iran and its “support” for terrorism without dealing with the Turkish invasion of Syria, with help from a group of Syrian and non-Syrian extremists in the ranks of the Free Syrian Army.

The Turkish military operation Olive Branch was not a subject of interest or concern at Davos. To put it differently, the regional situation in the Middle East has been relegated to the background of world affairs, as if the wars and mini-wars that have been raging in the Middle East do not pose a threat to international peace and security. The “international liberal order” could coexist with this state of controlled warfare in the Middle East and the Gulf as long as the interests of this world order are not threatened. The Arab participants at Davos, whether through officials or businesspersons, did not exert efforts to warn against the destabilising consequences of the present situation in the Middle East on international peace and security. And maybe the world has left to the United States, Russia, Turkey, and Israel the task of taking care of the Middle East. Before delivering his remarks on 26 January, President Trump had met with the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Davos.

From Afrin in the northwest of Syria to Davos in Switzerland, the Arabs have been, glaringly, conspicuous with their absence.

It is a deafening silence with long term consequences for their security, stability, and national independence.

 

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Whither international banking? https://dailynewsegypt.com/2018/01/31/whither-international-banking/ https://dailynewsegypt.com/2018/01/31/whither-international-banking/#respond Wed, 31 Jan 2018 13:00:35 +0000 https://dailynewsegypt.com/?p=648699 Strong regional and global integration have been central to countries’ rapid growth and reduced poverty. Few economic sectors can better illustrate integration’s potential benefits—and its significant risks—than the banking sector. The period prior to the 2008 global financial crisis was characterised by a significant increase in financial globalisation, which coincided with dramatic increases in bank …

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Strong regional and global integration have been central to countries’ rapid growth and reduced poverty. Few economic sectors can better illustrate integration’s potential benefits—and its significant risks—than the banking sector.

The period prior to the 2008 global financial crisis was characterised by a significant increase in financial globalisation, which coincided with dramatic increases in bank sizes. This was manifested both in a rise in cross-border lending and in the growing participation of foreign banks around the world, especially in developing countries. These trends resulted in: additional capital and liquidity; efficiency improvements through technological advancements and competition; and, eventually, greater financial development.

However, when the crisis hit, it also vividly demonstrated how international banks can transmit shocks across the globe. It became clear that systems in place to manage the risks associated with financial globalisation were seriously flawed. The results were devastating to economies and to people, halting progress in the fight against poverty, affecting their incomes, health, and prospects for years to come.

Not surprisingly, the crisis resulted in a re-evaluation of global banking, with some observers noting that it was partly responsible for its viral transmission across borders. There were indications that risk calculations were often confined to slices of financial activity, frequently overlooking systemic risk, and focusing on specific instruments. There were also concerns about global systemically important banks which were deemed too big and too connected to fail.

As the world economy slowly recovered, a backlash against globalisation led many developing countries to clamp down on the activities of international banks. Yet, according to the new World Bank Global Financial Development Report (GFDR) 2017/2018: Bankers without Borders, policymakers should carefully consider their stance toward international banks, as these institutions can inject the capital, expertise, and technologies needed for broad-based and equitable growth that reduces poverty.

The report outlines policy measures developing countries can take to reap the benefits of international banking, including vigorously enforcing property and contractual rights, guaranteeing strong supervision of banks, and upgrading their credit registries to enhance information sharing. This work is essential if countries are to fully recover from the crisis, and if they aspire to reach the very ambitious sustainable development goals, which seek to help all nations protect people and the planet, while leaving no one behind.

This GFDR, the fourth in a series, contributes to the financial sector policy debates regarding international banking. It builds on novel data, surveys, research, and wide-ranging country experience, with an emphasis on emerging markets and developing economies.

Three critically important areas of focus in international banking were emphasised, representing new trends, opportunities, and challenges for market participants, policymakers, and regulators.

First, South-South banking is on the rise and international banking is more regionalised. Globally, bank lending is procyclical, increasing during booms and falling during downturns. But in developing countries, the lending pattern of international banks is significantly less procyclical compared to domestic counterparts. However, regionalisation in the South limits risk-sharing and implies a larger exposure of an economy to shocks within the region. South-South banks may also bring increased risks stemming from more lax regulation in their home countries and could amplify credit booms in host countries.

 

Second, there is a shift towards alternative sources of funding. Large firms in developing countries increased their use of capital markets in the wake of the crisis. In developing countries, these firms also switched toward domestic banks and away from international banks. While alternatives need to be recognised, the important role of banks remains for the majority of firms in developing countries.

 

Finally, there is an influence of technology—fintech—on international banking. It’s likely to reshape competition in global finance as it will increase the speed and reduce the cost of global payments and transfers, financial inclusion, and cross-border banking. Technology can remove the need for a third party to clear and settle payments. Risks include the misuse of personal data, difficulties identifying customers, electronic fraud, facilitating illicit transactions, the need for consumer protection, and the lack of safety nets.  The key challenge here will be to regulate and monitor the development of the industry without overregulation.

Countries that remain open can continue to benefit from global flows of funds, knowledge, and opportunity—but the regulatory space is complex and, at times, daunting to navigate. Encouraging the right type of foreign bank presence or forms of capital flows—without causing distortions—is challenging but critical. Efforts to address these areas of work need to involve extensive cross-border coordination with regulatory bodies and international financial institutions, and through South-South exchanges.

This report can help contribute answers to some of the most vital questions regarding international banking (e.g. addressing growth, poverty, shared prosperity, the stability of the financial system), with an aim to inform the debate that is taking place among policymakers—and to provide tailored solutions to some of the more critical development challenges.

Mahmoud Mohieldin is the World Bank Group senior vice president for the 2030 Development Agenda, United Nations relations, and partnerships.

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Fact or Fiction https://dailynewsegypt.com/2018/01/24/fact-or-fiction/ https://dailynewsegypt.com/2018/01/24/fact-or-fiction/#comments Wed, 24 Jan 2018 09:00:14 +0000 https://dailynewsegypt.com/?p=647941 United States Vice President Mike Pence made his first official tour of the Middle East from January 20-22, during which he visited Egypt, Jordan, and Israel. This tour came exactly on the first year anniversary of the administration of President Donald Trump. During the past year, the American president visited the Middle East last May …

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United States Vice President Mike Pence made his first official tour of the Middle East from January 20-22, during which he visited Egypt, Jordan, and Israel. This tour came exactly on the first year anniversary of the administration of President Donald Trump. During the past year, the American president visited the Middle East last May to attend an unprecedented Arab-Muslim-American summit in Saudi Arabia. Back then, the new American administration talked about the “deal of the century” to find a permanent solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

On December 6, 2017, Trump startled the whole world by recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and vowing to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, according to the Jerusalem Embassy Act that the United States Congress had adopted in 1995.

Still, Palestinians, Arabs, and the world are waiting for the “deal of the century” to be announced. Hopes were raised that maybe the US vice president would bring some concrete proposals to discuss in his first official tour of the region, however, such hopes were premature.

In his talks with Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi in Cairo and with the Jordanian King Abdullah in Amman, Pence heard the Arab point of view with regards to the rejection of Trump’s decision, as well as the two-state solution for the resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.  Both Arab leaders stressed the importance of reaching a settlement of the said conflict in light of United Nations resolutions.

Pence told the Egyptian president that if the Palestinians and the Israelis accept the two-state solution, then the United States would support such an option.

In his meetings with President Al-Sisi and King Abdullah, Pence emphasised that the United States remains committed to the status quo in relation to the holy sites in Jerusalem. In the meantime, he pointed out that the Jerusalem decision does not include any reference to the city’s border, which will be determined in the final status negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and the government of Israel.

On Monday 22 January, Pence delivered a speech before the Israeli Knesset, a first for an American vice president, in which he said that the United States stands with Israel because “your cause is our cause, your values are our values, and your fight is our fight,” and that Washington “will never compromise the safety and security of the State of Israel.”

As far as the Jerusalem decision is concerned, he had a big surprise for everyone including the Israelis themselves. He reiterated that “Jerusalem is Israel’s capital—and as such President Trump has directed the State Department to immediately begin preparations to move the United States Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.” He said the embassy will open before the end of next year, thus accelerating the move that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said last month is expected to take no less than three years.

What was really surprising is what Pence said that the United States, in making such a decision, had chosen “fact over fiction—and fact is the only true foundation for a just and lasting peace.” So the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights is fiction. If this is the thinking in the Trump administration, then what should we expect, as Egyptians, Palestinians, and Arabs from the highly trumpeted “deal of the century”?

In introducing Pence to the members of the Knesset, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, pointed out that Israel and the United States are working together to “achieve a true peace, lasting peace, peace with all our neighbours, including the Palestinians.”

The reference to a peace with Israel’s neighbours is, in fact, the crux of the “deal of the century”, in other words a regional settlement that would bring Israel and some Arab countries—those which have already signed peace treaties with the Jewish state, and Gulf countries—into an alliance of sorts.  The question is whom the target of such a grand regional alliance is?

The answer was quite clear and unmistakable in Pence’s remarks before the Knesset when he declared that the United States “will continue to work with Israel, and with nations across the world to confront the leading state sponsor of terror—the Islamic Republic of Iran,” adding that this “dangerous regime sows chaos” across the Middle East.

In the weeks leading to the vice presidential tour of the Middle East, the White House announced that the tour would serve the national security interests of the United States.  And as matter of fact, the true objective of the presence of Pence in the region is to push, like President Trump had done last May in Riyadh, for a regional alliance against Iran, while paying a lip service for the cause of peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

If this is the case, then we, as Egyptians, Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims, and the whole world, should try to distinguish between fact and fiction in the position of the Trump administration concerning peace in the Middle East.  I am afraid it is not for tomorrow.

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What the Egyptian Exchange needs today for tomorrow’s investors https://dailynewsegypt.com/2018/01/24/egyptian-exchange-needs-today-tomorrows-investors/ https://dailynewsegypt.com/2018/01/24/egyptian-exchange-needs-today-tomorrows-investors/#respond Wed, 24 Jan 2018 08:00:27 +0000 https://dailynewsegypt.com/?p=647938 Liquidity, fair disclosure, market enhancement tools for conducive environment

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Dating back 134 years, the Egyptian Exchange is one of the oldest bourses in the world and the Middle East. In 1883, the Alexandria Bourse was established then the Cairo Bourse followed in 1903. In this article, I will lay out what I think we need to further develop one of the oldest stock markets in the world.

Egypt once had one of the oldest bourses of forward contracts, focused mostly on Egyptian cotton. By the 1940s, the Cairo & Alexandria Stock Exchanges (CASE) became among the best five bourses worldwide. Fast forward to 2017, the Egyptian Exchange (EGX)—as it came to be known—is lagging behind other global, let alone regional, exchanges in terms of market capitalisation and traded values. So what does the EGX need today to cope with tomorrow’s markets?

In my opinion, the EGX is in need of several factors to drive both supply and demand, the two main forces needed for any healthy market.

On the supply side

  • Incentivise companies, especially small and medium enterprises (SMEs), to list on the main exchange and NILEX.
  • Regulate foreign exchange (FX) trading through registered brokers rather than firms based in Cyprus or New Zealand.
  • Activate the market-making mechanism to ensure consistent trading liquidity and orderly market trading, including allowing brokerage firms to operate as broker-dealers, rather than just brokers, thus owning securities in their names (what is known as their “street name”).
  • Introduce options and futures trading in stocks and currencies (starting with large-cap stocks and major currencies vis-à-vis the Egyptian pound, e.g. the US dollar and the euro).
  • Push for other exchange-traded funds (ETFs) to be set up, covering other main market indices as well as sector indices.

On the demand side

  • Change all stock trading to be T+0 in terms of security settlement while maintaining T+2 for cash settlement. In other words, same-day trading should be applied to all securities.
  • Allow short-selling (starting with large-cap stocks and institutional investors with certain minimum criteria).
  • Improve disclosure by listed companies.
  • Disclose listed companies’ free float percentages and foreign and institutional ownership changes more frequently.
  • Disclose the amount of outstanding margin debt in the market to help investors gauge how overextended the market is depending on its leverage.
  • Require brokerage firms to offer their clients options to invest their dormant cash balances in liquid, short-term, interest-paying instruments, such as money-market funds, short-term deposits, etc. This is as opposed to keeping idle cash in clients’ accounts earning nothing!

Liquidity is the name of the game

When thinking about trading liquidity in capital markets, investors may often think immediately about trading volumes, but there is more to liquidity than just higher volumes and more transactions. First, let us define liquidity. One definition that sums it all up is: “a market is liquid if traders can quickly buy or sell large numbers of shares without large price impact”. Thus, it is not volume alone that drives liquidity in the capital market, but it is rather the quantity, the bid-ask spread size, and consistency.

There are generally four aspects of liquidity:

  • Width refers to the bid-ask spread for a given number of shares and commissions and fees to be paid per share.
  • Depth is the number of shares that can be traded at given bid and ask prices.
  • Immediacy refers to how quickly trades of a given size can be executed at a given cost.
  • Resiliency characterises how fast prices revert to former levels after they changed in response to large order flow imbalances initiated by uninformed traders.

Fair disclosure

From the technical side, I think the EGX will have to foster market integrity at all levels. This can be achieved by emphasising that listed companies are subjected to—and are encouraged to practice—a reasonable level of disclosure while providing a reasonably transparent trading environment. Also, there needs to be a minimum requirement for all listed companies to have a certain amount of disclosure availed through a sponsored programme. That said, it is equally important not to overregulate which can easily inhibit liquidity in the market. The EGX will have to strike a balance between:

  • A strong market that is accessible to investors.
  • Market prices that are not subject to manipulation.

Market-enhancing tools

We need to keep in mind that trading rules exist to prevent undesirable market behaviour that is disadvantageous to the broad mass of investors and promote liquidity, hence the EGX needs to take a more tactical view. I think the following financial tools or methodologies will be essential to enhancing market depth as well as improve liquidity levels:

(1) Market maker

Earlier in October 2002, the Emirates Securities & Commodities Authority (ESCA)—the regulator of UAE capital markets—approved a new regulation for market making. By availing this to the market, liquidity will be boosted, volatility will be reduced, and transaction costs will be lowered.

However, this requires both skilled human capital and minimum core capital to support trading size. Even if there are no operational market makers, exchanges may even pay market makers to make markets either in monetary terms or through non-financial incentives, such as guaranteed allocation of orders flow, etc. Also, major shareholders of stocks where liquidity is very scarce may be approached to act as market makers (i.e. buyers of last resort). Furthermore, underwriters should act as market makers for the issues they bring to the market.

(2) Broker-dealer

There may be a need to introduce the broker-dealer classification that allows investment firms to be involved not just in agency trading but also proprietary trading. High scrutiny (i.e. strong market surveillance) should be applied on investment firms’ activities to ensure capital requirements are met, margin and position limits are not exceeded, and thinly-traded stocks are traded through a call auction.

(3) Short selling

Coinciding with the introduction of market making to the UAE market, short selling was also allowed. However, short selling requires having an adequate supply of stocks to be lent. In other words, there should be a seamless stock borrowing and lending (SBL) system. Even if short selling is not introduced soon, it needs to be made available at least to market makers to help them perform their role as required. To avoid the downward pressure on stock prices, the uptick rule (the last price before shorting must not be below the previous price) can be implemented.

(4) Availing all types of orders

By making all types of orders available to investors—such as limit orders, hidden orders (i.e. investors who do not want to reveal their full orders), and basket orders—a more sophisticated group of institutional investors will be attracted to trade, especially with the advent of so-called fintech or financial technology.

(6) New listings/IPOs

Undoubtedly, the introduction of new listings and high-profile IPOs will increase the number of investment opportunities, further adding weight and liquidity to the market. Also, allowing cross-listing by foreign companies in the form of EGP-denominated Egyptian depository receipts (EDRs) will likely attract local investors to pick up foreign stocks using their local currency to avoiding FX conversion cost. It does not make sense that we have 148 brokerage firms and only 222 listed stocks! It is exactly one-and-a-half stock per broker!

(7) Share buyback

Listed companies can become a buying power if they are permitted to buy back their own shares off the market whenever they see fit according to certain conditions. For instance, the US capital market regulator lists four conditions for companies to buy back their shares:

(1) Method of purchase: To purchase all shares from a single broker or dealer in a single day.

(2) Timing: Depending on the company’s trading volume and the value of its free float, share buyback may not be allowed during the last few minutes of any single trading session.

(3) Price: The purchase price has to be less than the highest independent bid or last price.

(4) Volume: The company cannot purchase more than 25% of its average daily volume.

No doubt about it, financial markets continue to develop, including capital markets. Similarly, Egypt’s capital market needs to develop to address investors’ demands. At the end of the day, the role of capital market regulators (for example the Egyptian Financial Supervisory Authority) and self-regulated organisations (like the Egyptian Exchange) is to create an environment conducive to fair trading.

Amr Hussein Elalfy, CFA, has been the global head of research and managing director at Mubasher Financial Services BSC since July 2012.

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Relevance as political power https://dailynewsegypt.com/2018/01/17/relevance-political-power/ https://dailynewsegypt.com/2018/01/17/relevance-political-power/#respond Wed, 17 Jan 2018 12:00:12 +0000 https://dailynewsegypt.com/?p=647048 Since the beginning of time, the idea of revolting against rulers has been studied and scrutinised, yet many people are still conflated about what makes ordinary citizens take to the streets and protest. A lot of people would not have imagined that protests would break out in Iran’s eastern city of Mashhad, initially against price …

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Since the beginning of time, the idea of revolting against rulers has been studied and scrutinised, yet many people are still conflated about what makes ordinary citizens take to the streets and protest. A lot of people would not have imagined that protests would break out in Iran’s eastern city of Mashhad, initially against price rises and corruption

The main reason behind the demonstrations that have erupted lately in Iran is basically an economic one. When we examine the situation in Iran, which is similar to almost everywhere else, we can easily find out that economics is the main factor that drives people to take action, after which other reasons manifest. Iranians suffer from political and social repression. However, this is not enough to get ordinary people to take to the streets. Once ordinary people feel threatened and unable to sustain a reasonable standard of living they will definitely take a serious step against the government. Oppression has always been a short-lived tactic, no matter how strict a regime can be; it would still be unable to predict when and how people would react to injustice, hard living, or poor conditions.

Citizens are quite pragmatic; they would not take action until their life is somehow threatened in one way or another. You cannot talk to citizens about things that are either far-fetched, too ideal, or absolute values. The illusion that people get mesmerised by slogans and big words seems to be gone forever; citizens have become more or less practical enough to examine what a politician is telling them. People respond to political discourse when it is relevant to their life, and when they compare what is being said to what is being seen in reality. In the Egyptian scenario, people have been frustrated for long now. Will this frustration continue? Probably yes.

Examining the political discourse that potential presidential candidate Khaled Ali is producing would throw doubt over his real understanding of what Egyptian citizens need nowadays. Khaled Ali is using a mostly populist discourse that may not take him far enough in the presidential elections. However, his presence in itself is a needed step for the sake of a more inclusive, lively political atmosphere that seems to be moving towards dullness and void.

The more realistic a politician’s discourse is, the easier it will grab people’s attention and get them to be interested in what he/she is saying. What the potential presidential candidates need to do is to address citizens’ needs.

Egypt has had a lot of serious problems that we have been talking about but we never really addressed. Education in Egypt is a mess. There has to be a radical solution to the type of “education” our kids in the poor villages are receiving, starting from the infrastructure that is quite inhumane, to the types of curricula they are studying which are neither modern nor useful. Unless we are starting to invest in our kids’ minds—which is the real treasure any given country can have—we will never move forward; we are moving in the same political discourse which is mainly made up of words not real actions. We have been working with the same strategy since Nasser, i.e. using big words but doing very little for the people. Promising what we do not have to delude people who have been suffering since they believe the sugar-coated words articulated by Nasser.

A masterpiece is a work of art that can stand the test of time. The fact that it can stand the test of time means that people keep using it no matter what. Shakespeare died in 1616 and people are still reading him and turning his plays into films and plays. People have given Shakespeare life as much as he has been giving them ideas which are relevant to them. The same thing applies to politicians; people only remember politicians who have had a real impact on their daily life. Many Egyptian still remember former minister of interior Ahmed Rushdi (1984-1986). He touched their lives, that is why he is still remembered. Will the current politicians in Egypt get the message?!

Sherif Rizq is an International Relations Researcher

 

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Changing regional landscape https://dailynewsegypt.com/2018/01/17/changing-regional-landscape/ https://dailynewsegypt.com/2018/01/17/changing-regional-landscape/#respond Wed, 17 Jan 2018 11:00:25 +0000 https://dailynewsegypt.com/?p=647044 The White House announced on 8 January that United States Vice President Mike Pence would be in the Middle East on behalf of President Donald Trump, from 19 to 23 January. Pence will arrive in Egypt on 20 January where he will meet with Egyptian President Abdel Al Fattah Al-Sisi. He will then travel to …

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The White House announced on 8 January that United States Vice President Mike Pence would be in the Middle East on behalf of President Donald Trump, from 19 to 23 January. Pence will arrive in Egypt on 20 January where he will meet with Egyptian President Abdel Al Fattah Al-Sisi. He will then travel to Jordan on 21 January to hold talks with King Abdullah II. From 22-23 January, the American vice president will visit Israel where he will confer with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and President Reuven Rivlin. He will also scheduled to speak at the Knesset. His agenda in Israel includes a visit to the Western Wall, a visit that carries political connotations for both the Palestinians and the Israelis. Last year, Trump paid a visit to the Western Wall, becoming the first sitting American president to do so.

The coming visit by the American vice president was supposed to take place in the second half of December 2017, but due to the backlash to the White House decision on 6 December to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Washington decided to postpone the visit. The reason given for the postponement was the need for Pence to be present while the US Congress was still working out the tax reform bill that was adopted in late December.

The Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, in retaliation to the December decision concerning Jerusalem, declined receiving Pence on his visit. And later on, the American administration talked about cutting off aid to the Palestinian Authority on the grounds that it is not willing to engage in peace talks. So, while in the Middle East, for the first time since becoming vice president, Pence will not be visiting Ramallah. It is not quite certain that excluding a stop in Ramallah will help either the Palestinians or the Americans.

The purpose of the Pence visit, according to his Press Secretary Alyssa Farah, is “to reaffirm our commitment to work with United States allies in the region to defeat radicalism that threatens future generations.” She further added that Pence will discuss with his Middle Eastern hosts “ways to work together to fight terrorism and improve our national security.” Another topic to be discussed during the vice presidential trip will be assistance to what the Trump administration has labelled “persecuted religious minorities.”  Let us hope that Washington does not consider Egyptian Christians either a minority, nor a persecuted one, at that.

The talks that the US vice president will have in Cairo will centre around the regional alliance that the American administration is working on, in close coordination with the Israelis: an alliance among the “moderate “Arab states, on the one hand, and Israel and the United States on the other. The aim of such an alliance from the American perspective is twofold. First, to contain Iran and Iranian-backed groups in the Middle East and the Arabian Gulf. Secondly, to integrate Israel in a grand regional alliance that serves the national security interests of Israelis and Americans. It would also put the Palestinian issue on the backburner, give time for Netanyahu and his extreme right cohorts to scuttle the two-state solution by an accelerated Israeli plan to impose a territorial fait accompli on the Palestinians. The decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel was the firing shot in this plan. It bears out to repeat that President Trump has not been on record supporting the two-state solution. In his remarks on 6 December, he brought up the idea, but conditioned it with the Palestinians and the Israelis accepting it. It is doubtful if the White House is not aware of the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, or the hundreds of housing permits being issued in Jerusalem.

One of the “national security” topics, from an American perspective, that is expected to come up in Pence’s talks with President Al-Sisi is North Korea and tightening sanctions on Pyongyang. He will ask Egypt to join in applying all Security Council-mandated sanctions on North Korea.

From an Egyptian point of view, the most important question to discuss with United States vice president is the future course of Egyptian-American relations in the short- and medium-term in light of cutting off economic aid and withholding part of the security assistance to Egypt, two decisions taken in the first year of the Trump administration.

Cairo shares with Washington the strategic objective of defeating terrorism and ending radicalism, but there is no common road map between the two sides on how to go about defeating terrorist groups, not only in Iraq and Syria, but also in Sinai, Libya, and beyond, wherever these terrorist organisations are based and operate. And withholding security assistance while Egypt is fighting terrorism on its own soil is not the best support that Cairo could get. It remains to be seen whether Pence will bring good news or not.

Seemingly, Egypt is not very enthusiastic about a regional alliance against Iran where Israel will be a leading member before a peace agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis is reached. Furthermore, Cairo believes that confronting Iranian overreach in the Middle East and the Gulf, including Yemen, will not be best ensured through military means. Finding solutions to the Palestinian problem and other crises in the region will go a long way towards curtailing Iranian influence. That is the view in Cairo, probably.

The visit by Vice President Pence to Cairo could revitalise Egyptian-American relations if the Trump administration shows willingness to work with Cairo, without preconditions, on meeting security and economic challenges that Egypt has been dealing with in the past few years. An announcement of releasing the suspended amount of American security assistance ($195m) to Egypt would be a step in the right direction

Hussein Haridy is former assistant to the foreign minister

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