Archive for November, 2014

Tales of war and heroism from Sinai

Posted: November 24, 2014 in Alarabiya

“The distance between what’s true and false is four fingers, Imam Ali [Abi Taleb] said, placing his four fingers between the eye and ear, adding: ‘that which is seen by the eye is true and that which is heard by the ear is mostly wrong or false.’” Sheikh Hassan Khalaf, one of Sinai’s mujahedeen, used this quote as he spoke to me the heroic acts he saw during the October war and after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.13329839251

The infantry martyr

Khalaf told me about a soldier, an infantry unit member who launched mortar bombs, and how he was martyred while retreating to a shelter during a troop withdrawal. He was buried 15 days later.

After the October War, Sinai’s men rushed to the military intelligence offices in Port Said, Ismailia, Suez and other areas where they formed work groups. Intelligence case files have documented this activity. Some of these citizens were trained on how to use wireless devices and operate beyond enemy lines. Some worked as messengers, some were trained on how to quickly launch rockets and some conducted interception operations beyond enemy lines for nothing in return.

Many died as martyrs; many others died in captivity. Sheikh Hassan Khalaf quoted a military leader as saying: “We had no satellites but we had honest eyes,” referring to Sinai’s men. He quoted another leader as saying: “Thanks to Sinai’s sons, the enemies’ posts were like an open book to us [the armed forces], and if it hadn’t been for this true information, the battle would’ve not been a success.”

Sheikh Suleiman al-Maghnam, also a former fighter in Sinai, told me how a Bedouin woman hid a soldier from the enemy’s warplanes. He also told me about his own contribution to helping the war effort by monitoring enemy activity for the Egyptian military.

The Sinai informer

Among the stories Sheikh Suleiman narrated to me was that of the Assaf Yaguri’s Armored Brigade. After the war erupted, Maghnam’s was tasked with monitoring the activity of Israeli tanks and armored vehicles, counting them and reporting his observations back to Egyptian Military Intelligence.

On Oct. 7, an armored brigade left the central security camp in Rafah, where a nationalist Bedouin worked. Sheikh Suleiman informed the military intelligence about the type of vehicles, their number, the direction they were headed and also specified the time they moved. He tracked them from one area to another. When the brigade arrived in Arish and then passed al-Midan town, he sent a telegram to intelligence with the details. He sent another telegram of the brigade passing al-Rawda. Sheikh Suleiman didn’t know he was tracking the Assaf Yaguri’s armored brigade when it passed al-Kherba, a zone where civilians weren’t allowed. He was detained by brigade members.

These tales that I heard from Sinai’s fighters force us to pause for a bit, not to restore the memory of our victories but to mull over them given the present situation in Sinai. Sinai’s sons have given so much to their country and they’re willing to give much more. The people of Sinai stand by their army once again to fight terrorism there and this is a new heroic act that we must add to their never-ending tales of heroism.

This article was first published in al-Jarida newspaper on Saturdya, Nov. 22, 2014.

If you ask any official about Egyptian-African relations and whether Egypt has dropped the ball when dealing with African counties over the past decades, the diplomatic answer would be a clear cut no and that Egyptian-African relations are the best they could be. The official would also remind you of Egypt’s vital political fields: Arab, African, Muslim and non-aligned states.hqdefault
However, this answer is a mere diplomatic one that does not reflect the truth: We in Egypt have l0ng neglected the African file. The current controversy between Egypt and Nile Basin countries is part of the price we’re currently paying as a result of this negligence.

Egypt’s attention to the Nile Basin countries’ issue began a while ago. This was seen through high-ranking officials’ concerns regarding relations between Egypt and these countries. We have, for the first time in a long time, begun to witness official Egyptian visits to these countries’ and their prime ministers. This is certainly positive even if it comes late in the day. Nile Basin countries are of strategic importance to Egypt. Therefore, it’s important for Egypt to deal with these countries within a comprehensive strategy and not just based upon bilateral relations. The basis of relations must thus be linking all Nile Basin countries’ mutual interests to the concept of increasing these countries’ benefit from the Nile River’s water and establishing projects which achieve this aim.

Bilateral relations

This means that Egypt must go beyond bilateral relations as I mentioned and head towards agreements that organize sharing the Nile River water upon a more comprehensive concept which includes different fields and finds a cooperation mechanism with each country alone as well as a cooperation mechanism between Nile Basin countries altogether.

Obstructions are numerous when it comes to Egyptian relations with Nile Basin countries. There is a decrease of commercial trade, the lack of regular navigation or aviation shipping lines, cancelling some EgyptAir flights to a number of these countries, a lack of railways, the increase of shipping prices and most importantly a lack of Egyptian presence in these countries.

It’s true that the Nile River water and Egypt’s rights are non-debatable but confirming this will only be realized through a mature policy that’s strategically devised and that enables us to contain any problems.

Therefore the proper approach to this situation is that which Egypt chose – even if it came late. It is based on cooperating within the context of mutual development. This stance corrects the current situation of countries who suffer from weak development and feel exploitated.

Therefore, it is only right that Egypt takes such an approach, one that depends on partnership in different projects and on marketing the idea of cooperation. Egyptian diplomacy is thus expected to head in the direction of establishing balanced and strong relations with other parties, pushing the wheel of investment and prioritizing different parties’ mutual interests.

As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, misinformed approaches will certainly lead to undesired results. This logic can be applied to any public, private, social, political or economic case. If one’s approach is confrontational, the end result will not be positive. I therefore think that Egypt has adopted the proper approach to dealing with some African countries. I hope this bodes well for the future.

I have known Faiza Abou el-Naga for a long time: ever since she was minister of international cooperation during Mubarak’s reign. With her permanent and remarkable smile, she seemed to be quiet, chic, a promising and responsible person capable of taking on greater responsibilities. I used to come across her by chance at opera nights in Cairo.Abdul-Latif-Al-Minawi

When I visited a number of African and Arab countries, I heard a lot about her from officials there, before getting to know her in person. With her Egyptian look and European culture, she was able to win the hearts of those she met during her visits.
All those who met her agreed that her strong personality and decisiveness were remarkable; she was sympathetic and had the ability to contain and undertake positive debate.

I personally met her later on in the military council. At this stage, the conditions and challenges allowed the lady to reveal her potential and ability to deal with different situations. When she was at the ministry, I heard from many members of the military council that she was the “manliest” minister in the ministry, and if it wasn’t for the existing conditions she would have been the fittest to be appointed as prime minister.

If it wasn’t for the existing conditions she would have been the fittest to be appointed as prime minister.

Abdel Latif el-Menawy

 

At this stage, I followed her from a different angle and she proved that what was said about her was true indeed. She was eager to resolve outstanding matters; the national interest with respect to the interests of others was a priority for her.

The reactions to Faiza Abou el-Naga’s appointment as national security advisor to President Sisi were varied: some considered this position to be challenging the United States because of Naga’s position on the issue of civil society organizations that have led to a crisis between Egypt and the United States. Naga had clearly criticized American and Western behavior in disregarding Egypt and providing financial support to these organizations in order to undermine the Egyptian state. The United States did not like this. Upon the formation of the government, a U.S. official humorously told me: “we will accept any government as long as Faiza Abou el-Naga is not in it.”

This choice by President Sisi was therefore seen as a challenge to the Americans, but the answer here is simple: if the relations between the two states weren’t more mature than these observations, Egypt would have asked in return: Why doesn’t the U.S. administration give notice to Susan Rice, who is known for her hard-line attitudes toward Egypt?

Appointing Naga as the president’s national security advisor has been the president’s best decision so far.

Abdel Latif el-Menawy

Similarly, those who expect Naga’s presence to be bad for civil society groups are also wrong because what governs the relationship of the organizations is the law and as long as they respect the laws of the state there will be no problem.

Consequently, these organizations should not be worried about it as long the sovereignty of the country and its laws are respected. The national work leads to the community’s development with no violations threatening the national security.

In my opinion, appointing Naga as the president’s national security advisor has been the president’s best decision so far. I hope that his team, which he really needs, carries on with the same level of choices in various disciplines. This choice also expands the concept of national security in the eyes of the leadership and people because national security is not just a border security issue but rather starts from the bread queue. This developed way of thinking and the right choice will raise hopes for the country.

This article was first published in al-Masry al-Youm on Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2014.