I remember the period during which the Fath mosque near Ramses Square in Cairo was under construction. It was being constructed in the midst of an unending conflict between the state and the onslaught of political Islam. However, I will not talk now about my remarks regarding the management of this conflict for the past few decades. Although it was still under construction, the mosque was used as a gathering point for the members of groups affiliated with political Islam. It was the starting point for all the demonstrations and right next to the mosque there was a strong Security Force presence.mosque-fath-2-l

I went there in the early 1980s to conduct a press report about this phenomenon. I was working for Asharq al-Awsat newspaper at the time. The impressions that struck me the most were the angry faces, showing intense frustration and hatred, the faces of men and young people who had gathered to prepare for a protest or demonstration. This scene still lingers in my mind as it was tainted by negative vibes.

Hypocritical scenes

I still recall the scene that played out in front of the Fath mosque every time I hear one of the hardliners yelling on television channels, or even quietly delivering a fanatical and radical speeches. I recall the scene every time I see one of them expressing the stances of those who went against our history, logic and reason. Whenever I hear or see such hypocritical scenes, I see faces that remind me of those angry faces, negative faces I saw in the 1980s. They still believe that the Muslim Brotherhood will be the salvation of the nation.

This is the perpetuation of the angry faces who decided to go against the will of the people, and also go against logic, reason and history. History can take a deviated path sometimes but the will of the people is the ultimate truth that will straighten the road.
As we commonly say, one screams as much as one suffers. Their screams are understandable especially after their popularity decayed with the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Essebsi’s triumph in Tunisia and the deterioration of the Ennahda Party’s popularity in Tunisia.

Such anger will only increase the faithful people’s determination stand against extremism.

This article was first published in al-Jarida on January 25, 2015.

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Ahead of the upcoming African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s prime minister has sought to soothe Egyptian fears over the potential impact of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance dam on the Arab country’s share of Nile River water.

In an interview conducted by Egyptian journalist Abdel Latif Elmenawy for Al Tahrir television channel on Wednesday, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said his country had “no reason” to make “the Egyptian people feel that they are threatened because of the Nile River.”photo 1 (1)

“We say that this is a God-given resource for all of us, and we have to use this resource in both a rational and reasonable way. That both Ethiopia develops and Egyptian people get their safe share to develop from the Nile water,” Desalegn said.

“I think we can share this resource without harming each other, without impeding Ethiopian development, without making insecurity in Egypt. We know that it is a bloodline. The Nile is a bloodline to Egypt. To the people of Egypt,” Desalegn added.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is expected to fly this week to Ethiopia to attend the African Union summit where he will meet with Prime Minister Desalegn in a rare opportunity for direct talks between the two countries.

Ethiopia – nicknamed “Africa’s water tower” – is the source of about 80 percent of Nile water, but Egypt is the most dependent on the river. Cairo fears that Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance dam could cut its share of the water.

The legal framework that governs the management of the Nile is a 1929 treaty between Egypt and colonial Britain and a 1959 treaty between Egypt and Sudan. Ethiopia considers the arrangement to be unfair, because it was not colonized and Britain did not speak on its behalf.

The Ethiopian prime minister said Egypt should not be concerned about the Renaissance dam, saying: “There is a scientific way” of ensuring everyone gets their fair share of the water.

“The filling of the dam is scientifically determined, in what period of time whatever has to be decided.”

He said his country has taken an initiative to establish an international panel of experts to study the impact of the dam on countries downstream from the structure, “especially Sudan and Egypt.”

He said he believed differences with Cairo could be resolved through dialogue, saying any use of threats on the part of Cairo would be a ‘failed strategy,’ referring to previous threats made by ousted president Mohammad Morsi.

“The era of the Egyptian leadership during the Muslim Brotherhood – especially president Mursi – was a tough time. A very complicated era, because you know a statesman, in a televised way, threatening Ethiopia that he was going to take military actions against us, which is an open televised statement,” the Ethiopian prime minister said.

“It is a failure, when you think to threaten a country militarily, it’s from the inception, it is a failed strategy.”

‘When al Sisi came to power we came to understand that he is a man of sincerity, a man of understanding, and also a man of genuine engagement with countries, with Ethiopia,” he added.

Egypt is going through a phase of sharp polarization. The situation pushes us to think of ways out and it seems that the easiest way out is to issue regulatory laws. It’s in this context that one can explain the announcement of the desire to issue laws that protect the January 25 and June 30 revolutions, but I think this situation will only end if we move forward.images

What’s required today is a law that looks forward and that does not take us back or stir disagreements. Implementing the president’s electoral slogan is the means to “stability, security and hope.” If there’s hope, disagreements and polarization will end.

As I have previously said on several occasions, both progressive and backward societies still embrace many of their primitive stages to varying degrees. I think a huge part of our problems is due to the sanctifying of ideas which leads to clashes that sometimes end in murder. This appears in the religious frenzy, the sharp political, sectarian and religious polarization and the spread of violence and terrorism, and there’s no room for rationality and consensual solutions when it comes to all that.

I brought up this phenomenon when the issue of legislation to protect the January 25 and June 30 revolutions from any insults was being debated.

Deterring penalties

Some sources said the law will include deterring penalties to whoever insults either revolutions and that the punishment will be based on the Egyptian constitution issued last January which considered both the January 25 and June 30 revolutions as revolutions. I hereby seize the opportunity to announce my rejection of such legislation. I don’t reject it due to its attack on freedoms of speech or only because issuing such a law provokes people, but I reject it because it actually contradicts with what should be the ruling mentality.

I hope that President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who was known for having his finger on the public pulse, does not get influenced by some voices calling for protection because they believe it should be illegal to criticize their opinions. Revolutions are a social act that continue or end according to societies’ development.

According to my humble knowledge, there have not been any laws prohibiting the discussion of revolutions throughout history. The French revolution is still a matter of controversy and the same applies to all other social metamorphoses.

If we enter that tunnel of change, there’s no exit from it. We will pay the price of drowning in rivalry if such a law is issued. It’s the right of those who are described as “slaves of the military boot” by others to demand a law that protects them and protects their political choices. It’s also the right of whoever believes in an idea, movement or orientation to scream out for protection.

 

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.

Egypt’s roads are not leveled and many drivers are not disciplined. There are no signs of any security deterrence on roads and bridges. Even if there is, it’s a materialistic presence. Cars zoom past quickly, crossing paths and racing.000_0_443079782

A large vehicle could be on the right side of the road and its driver may suddenly decide to deviate to the left without prior warning because he/ she wants to win a “race” against a car ahead. A cocky police officer drives his car irresponsibly as a soldier sits next to him in surrender. A boy is driving a three-wheeled rickshaw because he has decided to defy everyone around him. A cart carries garbage and is being drawn by a donkey. Delivery motorbikes jump between cars as they race with time and defy the capabilities of the vehicle they’re driving. Amid all this, microbus drivers argue with many around them as they scream out their destinations. Theme parks can be compared with these roads.

Theme parks can be compared with these roads

Abdel Latif el-Menawy

Somewhere amid this chaotic scene, a crash occurs and blood is shed on the asphalt – or whatever is left of it.

Unfortunately, many transportation vehicle drivers do drugs, and a high percentage of road accidents are because of them. Blood analysis campaigns used to deter them and force them to adhere to safety measures. This helped reduce the number of accidents caused by transportation vehicles.

However, accidents are also caused by the absence of road signs and lighting, poor road conditions, and the thoughtlessness and inattention of private vehicle drivers.

Estimates of the number of deaths caused by road accidents range from around 8,000 to 12,000 a year. What is agreed on is that Egypt ranks highest in terms of such accidents, according to the World Health Organization. This has led to economic losses estimated at 17 billion Egyptian pounds a year.