Archive for July, 2014

The current issue of contention with the Nile River’s water raises a very important matter regarding Egyptian-African relations: Where is Egypt in relation to Africa? And where are African countries in relation to us?

In the past, during social and geography lessons, we were taught about the circles Egypt is linked to – the Arab, African and Muslim circles as well as non-aligned movement states. In the past, we also read and enthusiastically followed up on Egypt’s stance in support of African liberation movements. We also knew names of African leaders and followed up on the cause of freeing Africa. All this was in the past as the African issue and relations with African countries are no longer our primary concern, it seems. It seems as though the phase of warm relations with Africa has passed. We can here recall the many African conferences held in recent years and check Egypt’s representation in them. We can check the retreat of Egypt from the meetings of the Organization of African Unity or of the African Union which replaced it, and would discover the gaping hole of Egypt’s absence. If we also compare the frequency of our foreign affairs officials’ visits to African countries with their visits to European countries and the U.S., we would also realize how we neglected the African file for many years.

This situation has created a state of vacuum. Africans’ growing feeling of negligence made them look for alternatives I feel. The vacuum has found someone to fill it – from Israel to China to European countries and the U.S. as well as other African countries which wanted to fill this vacuum Egypt left behind.

In Egypt, we eyed up European countries and forgot African ones

Abdel Latif el-Menawy

One of the major problems we confronted during recent decades is a misheld perspective towards foreign relations. Is it in our interest to have good relations with our neighbors even if they are of a lesser economic status? Or is it better to forge ties with neighbors who are more developed than we are on the economic and technological levels? Instead of looking around us, it seems we decided to look to those superior countries. I believe that we didn’t reach equal relations with them and thus lost those around us for a long time because we failed to see them.

Eying up Europe

This happened, and is happening, to us in Egypt and other Arab countries as we eyed up European countries and forgot African ones. When it’s time for the next Arab-African summit, we should correct this common mistake. You don’t have to be friends with rich men to become rich, and just because you’re friendly with poor people or with people with low income, it does not mean you will become poor like them. Richness is the ability to balance your ability to meet the needs of others and those surrounding you with those who can sometimes accept better circumstances.

The African market remains one of the important and major markets for raw materials and food products. More coordination of relations between Arab countries – Egypt in particular – and African countries may yield us more results than we can imagine.

The orientation adopted by Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi since he took over power shows that there seems to have been a real realization of this truth and that a new policy that understands the importance of Egyptian-African ties is finding its way back to the forefront.

All I ask of the dear readers is to look forth on the map of Africa and the Arab world and imagine how this vast geographic area can become if it’s linked by united economic relations. Such relations would lead these countries to have a better presence in the world’s arena. In this case, all of these countries could be rich thanks to their mutual ties.

This article was first published in al-Masry al-Youm on July 31, 2014.

Mistakes begin when we only see what we want to see. Negative repercussions worsen when we insist on our point of view and refuse to look at issues from a different angle.

This applies to how we are dealing with the Nile Basin countries. We have settled with confirming on what’s non-negotiable – that would be Egypt’s right to get its share and the amount of water it needs from the Nile River. We have for long insisted on this and neglected to see other Nile Basin countries’ opposing points of view. We did not try to see things from their angle – which if we did, it would have aimed to achieve a comprehensive vision and not to adopt their point of view. A comprehensive vision would help us understand the problem from all its angles and thus enable us to make the right decision and resolve the crisis while guaranteeing our own interests without losing good relations with countries which we have no choice but to co-exist with until the end of time.

Part of the mistake we committed in the past is that we kept confirming our right to the Nile River and bringing up international agreements and pledges on Egypt’s rights to this water but did not engage ourselves in knowing what others want or why others are angry. Are their stances due to their lack of knowledge of these agreements? Are they due to rejecting these agreements or to voicing anger towards a certain behavior or towards a policy that lacked empathy and understanding of someone’s political and economic needs? The problem is that we’ve also adopted a superior behavior in which we felt like we are always capable of successfully acting anytime we sit fit.

We also got occupied by other matters. Amidst our preoccupation, we did not notice that what we thought were constant principles in some areas were no longer as such. We did not notice any of these regions’ political, economic and psychological developments and thus failed to realize that we have to alter our vision towards these areas which their own vision of themselves, their alliances, relations and interests have also differed.
International agreements are important but they will not be the solution to the issue of the Nile River. Insisting on our stance and on our right to life must be continuous but insistence alone is not enough.

When I met with late Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, I understood some aspects that haven’t been clear to me and which are important to understand. Among what he said was:

-Ethiopia is not demanding an equal division of the Nile River water.. We did not say that. What we are demanding is a fair division.

-We know that Egypt needs more irrigation water than Ethiopia does. It’s therefore unreasonable to demand equal shares between Ethiopia and Egypt. We never demanded that.

-Egypt’s share of the Nile River water includes the water wasted in canals. If the Egyptians will tell us that they have the right to waste the Nile River water and that we Ethiopians have no right to exploit a single liter of our water even if we are starving, then the Egyptians would not be thinking in a modern way that suits the 21st century.

-There must be mutual recognition of each party’s interest. The 1959 agreement does not recognize the interests of seven out of nine countries. It only recognizes the interests of two countries. If you insist on recognizing of the interests of only two countries, you’d be shutting the door towards cooperation. Cooperation’s first step is to recognize each other’s interests and to recognize the need to reach a solution that benefits everyone.

-“When the issue is related to Egypt and Ethiopia, there’s not even a slight possibility to split and it is not possible to cut relations between the two countries. The Nile River has connected Egypt and Ethiopia and it’s impossible to separate them.”

Spending these few days in Ethiopia made me realize that we need to look at the matter from different angles. We need to liberally view the situation and abandon outdated behavior.

This article was first published in al-Masry al-Youm on July 29, 2014.

Egypt and Ethiopia issued a joint statement a few weeks ago, confirming their mutual commitment to the principles of cooperation, mutual respect and good neighborly relations as well as to the principles of respecting international law and achieving common interests.

The statement was issued by Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi and Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn following discussions they held in Malabo during the recent African summit.

The statement reminds of the special relations the two countries enjoyed before they witnessed what I see as an obvious chill in ties during the eras of Hosni Mubarak and Mohammad Mursi.

If we take a quick look at the Egyptian-Ethiopian relationship, we realize that it dates back to Egypt under the pharaohs, before borders were crystallized, and that it has continued to develop and flourish thorough consequent periods until its decline during the Ottoman era.

I visited Ethiopia in an attempt to understand the situation, as our problem is that we always have a preconception about certain issues and people

Abdel Latif el-Menawy

This change in relations was, I believe, due to the Ottoman Empire’s participation in the struggle between Islamic emirates and Ethiopia as well as the Ottomans’ settling of Ethiopia’s coastline and preventing the local population from communicating with the outside world.

This situation continued as such until Mohammad Ali seized power in Egypt and later Sudan. This led to the establishment of joint borders between Egypt and Ethiopia.

Understand the situation

I visited Ethiopia in an attempt to understand the situation, as our problem is that we always have a preconception about certain issues and people. It’s these preconceptions that make us arrive at the wrong conclusions. My attempt to understand was an attempt to understand what is currently happening regarding the Nile Basin issue and regarding Ethiopia’s stance on the matter.

It’s also an attempt to understand where we currently stand.

Ethiopia is a territory inhabited since ancient times and it’s one of the African countries with the longest history of independence – though not continuously. Ethiopia maintained its independence during the period of colonization in Africa and it remained as such until 1936 when the Italian army invaded it.

British and Ethiopian forces defeated Italian forces in 1941 but Ethiopia did not restore its sovereignty until the Anglo-Ethiopian Agreement was signed in December 1944.

We also have Islamic ties with it as Ethiopia is thought to have been the first place to embrace the first wave of Muslims who migrated from Makkah to flee the Quryash’s persecution and King Aṣḥama ibn Abjar.

Ethiopia’s rivers all head toward the west and end at the Nile River valley – except for the Omo River located in the south that heads toward a lake. The Tekeze River, also known as “Setit” locally, rises in the Ethiopian Highlands and flows north. But one of Ethiopia’s biggest rivers is Abbay, or the Blue Nile, which originates from Lake Tana and the Lesser Abbay River which rises in the mountain of Gojjam.

Ethiopia’s area is 1,127,127 km2 and has a population of around 96,633,458, according to the CIA Factbook. Ethiopia’s frequent droughts in the past century have led to significant humanitarian and environmental losses. There are various languages and races in Ethiopia as well as various religions. The origins of the people are diverse, ranging from Oromo, Amhara, Tigreans, Somali among others.

As I said, I went to Ethiopia in an attempt to understand. The truth is that we all need to come closer and understand this cultural and historical diversity as well as the relations that we hope can be better than they have been in the past.

This article was first published in al-Masry al-Youm on July 20, 2014.

When I previously on wrote why Abdel Fattah al-Sisi should be elected as the Egyptian president, I said that the basic givens of the Egyptian situation logically lead to failure. I said the country’s security, economic and political givens implied definite failure and that the only one capable of leading Egypt to alter this reality is a man who can push the Egyptian people forward. I, like millions of others, found Sisi to be the only man fit for this task.  images

However, there are no guaranteed results without conditions. The president requires tools and the question here is: is the tool set complete? Are those in charge of implementing the new vision the most capable? Let’s take the decision to raise fuel prices. It is a good example as it’s one of the most dangerous and important economic decisions the Egyptian government has taken in years. To begin with, I think this decision is completely the right step in the context of economic reform which Egypt will not be able to achieve unless difficult decisions – of which the first is raising fuel prices – are made. But is the manner in which the decision was made right? I have some qualms regarding this.

The basic problem

A long time ago, I said the basic problem which Egypt’s consecutive governments have suffered from is their inability to communicate with the people. To be accurate, it’s the governments’ inability to speak the language of the people. The second issue is that in addition to the lack of communication, there’s a delay when they actually try to communicate. Take the last decision as an example. What happened was that they did not pave way for this decision before it was announced to the public – although the Egyptians are most of the time willing to understand such decisions. This is why when this decision was issued, it stirred public discontent. The prime minister’s and some ministers’ explanation the day after the decision was announced is the right measure, but there are reservations about its timing and content.

The basic problem which Egypt’s consecutive governments have suffered from is their inability to communicate with the people

Abdel Latif el-Menawy

The information they presented was very important but it came very late. They should have previously explained this information in order to prepare the public before making that decision and in order to create some sort of dialogue. What’s certain is that most people, regardless of their social status, won’t be happy that fuel prices have been increased. However, if people had been respected and engaged, a state of understanding would have prevailed.

Negative connotation

The other important note is the government’s use of old terms that have a negative connotation in Egyptians’ minds. One of these terms was used and it’s that of “moving prices.” The Egyptians consider this latter expression to be deceitful, and a phrase that underestimates their intellect. The Egyptians, as well as officials, know that the right term here would be “increasing prices.” Therefore, let’s talk with people at the right time and while also using their language and respecting their intellect.

President Sisi fixed a lot when he addressed the Egyptians the next day. However, I still think people needed to hear hopeful as well as realistic messages during that phase. I must here warn that the people’s affection for the president must not always be counted on to overcome crises that could have been avoided if we had properly addressed the public earlier.

This article was first published in al-Masry al-Youm on July 16, 2014.

We must be careful of taking steps  backwards or of being pushed backwards. God has helped us restore Egypt again after it was lost, or was almost lost. We restored it as a country for all Egyptians thanks to the people who took to the streets and thanks to the army’s support and the risks they took. Since the situation did not bear hesitation and since we didn’t have the luxury of time, of contemplation and of engaging in a futile Byzantium argument, the solution, or the choice, was that he who led the task of restoring the country leads the country. And so Sisi became Egypt’s president, the leader of all Egyptians.images

What’s certain is that the public and the government have been imbued with a new spirit. Whether they are abiding by the new president’s performance or admiring it, officials have begun to brag about waking up early and about resolving problems they’ve inherited or about their attempts to resolve them. Nowadays, we hear it a lot that the president is following up on certain issues himself and is communicating with officials to follow up on their work. This is a new situation. They are all indications of positive aspects that we can sense in society, even if at a relatively small scale. But is this enough?

The president’s intent and honest aims

A person cannot doubt the president’s intent and honest aims. I personally can testify to this honesty and unlimited dedication that only aims to develop the country and restore the status it’s lost over many decades. I think the frank and logical answer is that this is not enough because the activity we see is still uncontrolled. Perseverance among officials, or among most of them, is a reaction to a serious and decisive president. They are interacting with him but it’s still uncontrolled because political proceedings haven’t been organized within a coherent system that has a clear vision and aims.

Perseverance among officials, or among most of them, is a reaction to a serious and decisive president

Abdel Latif el-Menawy

For many years, I have summarized Egypt’s major problem in the absence of such a system. The secret to nations’ and people’s progress is “the system” – the presence of a scientific system that runs the country’s affairs in all its details. A clear system must be imposed to get the work done. It must specify roles and divide them and hold each person accountable according to how responsible he is. Above all this, having a “vision” is the most important aspect of this system. I know that during this phase, President Sisi is working on studying the establishment of a team of aides. Although this is important, I call on him to first form a specialized team to build the state’s systems.

No matter how wide his vision, frankness and dedication go – and they are all characteristics I testify he has – the president will not be able to work alone, or to work according to an old or traditional style, or according to a defective one. He will not be able to work in the absence of a system which lacks complete vision and which does not adopt scientific standards as a basic method towards implementing, measuring and establishing working relations.

This article was first published in al-Masry al-Youm on July 6, 2014.