This Week in Egypt: Week 8-2021 ( Feb 2-8)

Top Headlines

  • Biden administration says human rights will be ‘central’ to ties with Egypt
  • New draft personal status law sparks outrage in Egypt
  • Political parties reject amendments to Egypt’s real estate registration law
  • Egypt, Qatar hold first meeting since ending Gulf dispute

Main Headlines

Monday

Tuesday

  • U.S. raises human rights, Russia aircraft with Egypt – State Dept
  • Egypt receives second shipment of Chinese coronavirus vaccine
  • Higher oil prices push Saudi index up, while Egyptian index declines
  • Egyptian police arrests owner of sunken boat that killed nine
  • Egyptian and Qatar delegations meet in Kuwait to discuss future steps after reconciliation agreement

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

Saturday

  • Universities across Egypt start mid-year exams under strict coronavirus measures
  • Egypt lifts ban on Ramadan’s Taraweeh prayers in some mosques amid strict coronavirus measures
  • Egypt opens first archaeological replicas factory to counter Chinese knockoffs

Sunday

 Reports

  • New draft personal status law sparks outrage in Egypt. Egyptian Streets
  • Egypt boosts ties with Burundi — with eye on Turkey. Mohammad Hanafi 
  • Egypt versus Turkey in 2021: who has the stronger military? via Egypt Independent 

Read

From Twitter

Video

Plus

  • It turns out that an ancient painting known as Egyptian Mona Lisa is actually depicts an extinct breed of goose  
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Clubhouse and the Middle East

Echo chambers, trolling, attempts to hijack conversations, and coordinated efforts to de-platform certain people have all been part of my journey since I joined the invitation-only social networking app, Clubhouse. However, in spite of these strange experiences, I have been thrilled to be a member of this group.  

Unlike other social media platforms, Clubhouse offers a unique opportunity for audio social communication, which is more intimate and productive than other text-based social media platforms. 

Because I yearn for smart discussions, mature debates, and building bridges amidst the current depolarised atmosphere, joining Clubhouse was like a dream come true. As I moved from room to room, I encountered good discussions on various topics with refreshing respect, although content can sometimes be of average quality.  

But my honeymoon on clubhouse did not last more than a week. Unlike others who preferred to stay as listeners and refrained from contributing to debates, I decided to immerse myself fully in Clubhouse and engage in various debates; I even hosted small rooms to discuss hot topics. Unfortunately, it did not take long to discover that there were many pitfalls. I once moderated a room in Arabic, but failed to spot some derogatory insults in a certain Gulf accent against another Gulf State. However, I eventually handled the incident and expelled the troll.  

Challenges in the moderating room:

In real life, there is unwritten etiquette among attendants of any symposiums or webinars to respect each other and, more importantly, to respect the moderators. Sometimes such etiquette vanishes, especially in heated discussions, and especially in discussions on tricky Middle-Eastern topics, like the situation in Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I watched a supporter of the Mullah regime bullying an Iranian moderator in a most ugly manner. Moreover, this supporter (who enjoys life in a Western country) opened a Twitter account solely for the purpose of accusing the moderator of “spreading misinformation” about Iran. In other rooms, discussing the Israeli-Palestine conflict, it was hard not to notice an organised group of pro-Palestine activists who skilfully put pressure on moderators, regardless of the actual topic posed, to steer the arguments towards past grievances and to stop any discussion on practical future solutions. In one room, for example, an anti-Zionist Jew claimed that I have no right to speak on Jewish issues because “I am not a Jew.” 

The trap of deplatforming

Alarmingly, I encountered an ugly incident where a group of Egyptians reported a certain speaker “for insulting Islam’s holy book” after he casually joked about a verse in the Quran.  I fear this trap could happen again and again, especially after many Muslim Brotherhood supporters and many regime supporters have joined Clubhouse.

Evolving echo chambers  

Perhaps the greatest risk of Clubhouse, whether from Middle East observers or other participants, is the danger of creating convenient echo chambers that silence opposing voices either overtly by bullying them or subtly by not allowing them a chance to speak and express their views. 

There is a genuine risk that Clubhouse will descend from its current valuable audio-communication offerings and instead become a target of trolling and harassment in which obnoxious speakers dominate conversations, turning them into terrible listening experiences. 

That said, I have had many positive experiences on Clubhouse, especially in my efforts to build bridges. It was inspiring and refreshing to hear about a Jewish journalist who helped his Gaza-based Palestinian friend during Israeli attacks, an Egyptian expat who befriended a Jewish Egyptian in New York City, and an Egyptian Muslim who understood the concept of a homeland for the Jewish people after meeting a German holocaust survivor and her family.  

Because of those refreshing encounters, I still believe Clubhouse offers the opportunity to engage in unique and enriching human interactions and that its members should be supported and protected from the divisive bullying of social media saboteurs.  

Posted in Middle East, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

This Week in Egypt: Week 7-2021 ( Feb 15-21)

Top Headlines

  • US stops Trump’s aid freeze to Ethiopia over dam dispute
  • US approves sale of new military equipment to Egypt 
  • Egypt’s el-Sisi offers support to Libya’s new prime minister
  • Israel to link Leviathan gas field to Egyptian LNG plants
  • Egypt announces citizens can register for coronavirus vaccine next week
  • Egyptian delegation arrives in Tripoli to discuss reopening embassy, consulate in Libya
  • Sudan recalls envoy to Ethiopia as tensions high

Main Headlines

Monday

  • Egyptian army destroys four smuggling tunnels in North Sinai and thwarts illegal migration attempts
  • Egyptian delegation arrives in Tripoli to discuss reopening embassy, consulate in Libya
  • Pakistani FM  to start three-day visit to Egypt on Tuesday
  • Presidential Palace in Cairo to host its first concert to public soon 
  • Egypt is re-elected as rapporteur of UN special peacekeeping operations committee
  • MPs ask former parliament speaker Ali Abdel-Aal to attend meetings or resign

Tuesday

  • US Department of State approves the sell of new military equipment to Egypt
  • Egypt injects EGP 846 million to upgrade ambulance system
  • An annual population growth rate of 400,000 would allow Egyptians to enjoy fruits of development, says Sisi
  • Egypt’s Sisi pays tribute to healthcare workers who ‘sacrifice to protect Egyptians amid pandemic’

Wednesday

  • Egypt considering reopening its embassy and consulate in Libya
  • Sudan recalls envoy to Ethiopia as tensions high
  • Saudi Arabia seeks to see resolution to Ethiopian Dam crisis

Thursday

Friday

  • US stops Trump’s aid freeze to Ethiopia over dam dispute over dam dispute
  • Egypt’s el-Sisi offers support to Libya’s new PM
  • ‘Treasure trove’ of Christian manuscripts ‘never included in Bible’ found in a church in Egypt
  • TV anchor show is suspended over ‘offensive’ comments against Upper Egyptian parents

Saturday

  • Sudan and Ethiopia trade accusations in escalating border conflict
  • Egypt’s Minister of Defence to attend International Defence Exhibition and Conference (IDEX) in Abu Dhabi
  • Egypt urges self-restraint in Somalia following violence outbreak
  • Egypt reports another 610 new coronavirus cases and 49 deaths

Sunday

Reports

  • Egypt boosts investment in Congo, hoping to secure support in Nile dam crisis. Mohamed Saied
  • Egypt’s richest man Naguib Sawiris is joining the rush to explore the nation’s untapped gold deposits.  National News
  • How Egypt-Gulf consensus can advance peace in Yemen. Mohammad Hanafi
  • East Mediterranean : Friendship forum. Doaa El-Bey

In Photo

From Twitter

Plus

  • Promo of Egyptian famous puppet Abla Fahita’s first Netflix series ‘Drama Queen’ is released
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This Week in Egypt: Week 6-2021 ( Feb 8-14)

Top Headlines

  • Egypt opens Rafah crossing with Gaza until further notice
  • Cairo hosts intra-Palestinian reconciliation dialogue
  • Philia Forum of European, Arab FMs to Be Held in Athens
  • Egypt’s FM says ties with US ‘close, strategic’ over 4 decades 
  • World’s ‘oldest brewery’ uncovered at ancient Egyptian city of Abydos
  • Mayar Sherif writes history after becoming 1st Egyptian woman ever to win a main draw game at a Tennis Grand Slam
World’s Oldest Brewery

Main Headlines

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

  • Philia Forum countries seek balanced relations, condemn foreign interference in Arab countries: Egypt FM
  • Ankara slams anti-Turkey alliance meeting in Athens
  • Egypt is urged to remove activists from ‘terrorist’ list

Friday

  • Egypt, Greece, Cyprus urge full withdrawal of foreign forces and mercenaries from Libya
  • Easy Jet to commence Luton services to Egypt, Greece and Cyprus
  • Egypt considers new waste scheme

Saturday

  • Egypt’s FM describes ties with the United States  as ‘close, strategic’ over 4 decades  
  • IDF soldier lightly hurt by stray fire in exchange between Egypt army, smugglers
  • Egypt’s Public Prosecution releases former MP MP El-Hariri on bail in election bribes inquiry
  • Egypt extends mid-year vacation for one week over coronavirus concerns

 Sunday

Reports

  • Egypt back as ringmaster as Palestine talks progress. Daoud Kuttab
  • Nigeria deepens security ties with Egypt to battle Boko Haram. George Mikhail
  • Amid human rights and foreign policy concerns, Egypt scrambling to reinforce US ties under Biden. Mada Masr
  • Between the wheel and the bridge. Nesmahar Sayed 
  • Philia Forum put Greece in the center of new transcontinental geopolitical order. Paul Antonopouos

From Twitter

Sports

  • Tennis: Mayar Sherif writes history after becoming 1st Egyptian woman ever to win a main draw game at a Grand Slam

Photo Essay 

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This Week in Egypt: Week 5-2021 ( Feb 1-7 )

Top Headlines

  • Egypt’s president says he supports interim Libya government
  • Egypt has freed Al-Jazeera journalist Mahmoud Hussein
  • COVID-19: Egypt targets 35 million people in 1st vaccine roll-out
  • Egypt targets 35 million people in 1st Covid -19 vaccine rollout
  • Ancient mummies with golden tongues unearthed in Egypt
  • Egypt honours healthcare workers’ fight against coronavirus with new coins

Main Headlines

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

  • Sisi stresses to Lebanon’s Saad Al-Hariri Egypt’s support for the aspirations of the Lebanese people

Thursday

Friday

 Saturday

  • Egypt frees Al Jazeera journalist Mahmoud Hussein
  • Sudan: Further GERD filling ‘direct threat’ to national security
  • Egypt records lowest daily coronavirus cases in weeks  

Sunday

 Reports

  • US citizen’s torture suit to test Egypt relations under Biden. Elizabeth Hagedorn
  • Sudan and Egypt draw closer over GERD. Doaa El-Bey
  • In Egypt, a push to get more orphans families, fight stigma. Mariam Fam
  • Egypt and Sudan to have a joint industrial zone for Khartoum. Baher Al-Kady

 Podcast

Read

From Twitter

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Khamenei: Biden’s Preferred Dictator?

Within less than a month of his inauguration, the new American president Joe Biden has taken several actions with one theme in common____ they all, directly or indirectly, serve the interests of the Iranian regime. 

First, it was the appointment of Robert Malley, the new envoy on Iran, who is seen as controversial by many observers for his past friendly rapprochement with the Mullahs’ regime in Iran and their allies in the region. Then came the US State Department’s statement on the murder of the vocal anti-Iran and Hezbollah figure Lokman Slim, which lacked any mention of Hezbollah despite the group’s potential involvement in his murder. Soon after, news emerged that the American president is moving to revoke the designation of another Iran proxy, Yemen’s Houthis, as a foreign terrorist group.

I understand the approach. In his quest to reverse Trump’s policies, President Biden aims to  “revive the nuclear deal”with Iran to limit Iran’s nuclear capabilities, respects Lebanon’s judiciary without citing blame, and aims to mitigate one of the humanitarian disasters in Yemen. All are motivated by good intentions. Apart from hard-core supporters of the Mullahs’ regime, the majority of people in the Middle East (Arabs, Israelis, and Kurds) would agree with the American president’s goals. They want to stop Iran’s nuclear ambitions, end the suffering in Yemen, and bring the killers of intellectuals like Lokman Slim to justice. The question is how, and at what price? 

What President Biden’s policy advisors fail to grasp is that the initial nuclear deal with Iran didn’t fail just because the ex-president Trump withdrew from it, but because the Mullahs want more from the deal than just lifting the sanctions; they want full normalisation with the Western world, a deal that increases their value and prestige among youth across the whole region, and they want to continue to erode the pillars of many regional states like Lebanon and Yemen.

The hasty decision to revoke the Houthis’ designation as a foreign terrorist group and the lack of any deterrence of Iran’s proxy Hezbollah are problematic. The Biden administration has already offered the Mullahs unwarranted gifts in the hope they will reciprocate and negotiate in good faith. This hope, however, is nothing but a charade. 

Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif may dazzle Robert Malley with hugs and smiles; however, sensing American desperation for results, he will offer few concessions on any front, just like any good Persian merchant aiming to con foreign tourists. 

On the Yemen front, one can accept the revocation of the Houthis’ designation if it will indeed result in an end to the brutal civil war. However, as Yemeni scholar Nadwa Dawsari highlighted in a Twitter thread, revocation could have been used as leverage on the Houthis to deliver something in return. Biden’s gift to the Houthis under current conditions will only embolden this brutal terror group and empower them militarily and politically. They are a minority that hold the majority of Yemenis under siege, which is not a recipe for peace. Without outside pressure, the Houthis have no incentive to compromise, but Biden’s advisors sadly fail to see that.  

In Lebanon, as adjunct professor Firas Maqsad highlighted, Hezbollah is at its weakest. This should encourage the American president to apply more pressure to this Iranian proxy group that destroyed Lebanon, not let it get away with murder. What message does America send to non-sectarian liberal Arab intellectuals if it allows the murder of Lokman Slim to go unpunished? 

It is baffling for many Middle Easterners to see the American president handing the keys of the region to an Iranian regime at the peak of its weakness. Many of us wonder why a progressive American administration is rushing to empower a ruthless Islamic regime while alienating Arab states that firmly stand against Islamism? Months ago, Joe Biden mocked his predecessor Trump for having a “favorite dictator”. Regardless of the American assessment of any Arab regime, it may surprise President Biden, but they are many Iranians who envy us Egyptians for not falling into the same Islamist trap as they did. 

In his eagerness to erase his predecessor’s legacies, President Biden risks creating a much weaker regional order than is already in place, with Iran’s Khamenei claiming victory over his enemies. 

Good intentions can have perilous consequences, not just to the people of the Middle East, but for President Biden as well. The newly elected American president still has four years to reap the dividends of his decisions, which will haunt him at the end of his first term in office if they should fail. The last thing President Biden needs is to create the perception that Iran’s Khamenei is his preferred dictator. 

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Twitter Thread: Prominent Hezbollah Critic Lokman Slim Shot Dead in Lebanon

Anti-Hezbollah publisher and documentary-maker, Lokman Slim, who predicted he would be mirdered by Hezbollah, found murdeed this morning in his car with gunshots to the head.

Here is a collection of tweets on this abhorrent crime.

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This Week in Egypt: Week 4-2021 ( Jan 25-31)

Top Headlines

  • Egypt receives first batch of AstraZeneca vaccine 
  • 1,315 medical staff vaccinated against COVID in first four days of inoculation in Egypt
  • Egypt-Greece Cary out Naval Drills in the Mediterranean Sea
  • Egypt sends 31 tons of medical aid to Lebanon amid pandemic crisis
  • Egypt to reopen LNG plant in a push to be a major European supplier
  • Egypt places 50 Muslim Brotherhood leaders on terrorism list

The iconic Nile Fountain is back after a 40-year hiatus 

Main Headlines

Monday

Tuesday

  • Ethiopia is acting unilaterally and intransigently in the GERD dispute: Egyptian FM
  • ‘No reports of serious side-effects from Chinese vaccine used in Egypt,’ says health ministry official
  • Egypt’s mega projects represent ‘a big opportunity’ for foreign companies, says Sisi

Wednesday

  • Handball: Brave Egypt suffers heart-breaking loss to Denmark in World Championship quarters 
  • Egypt’s prosecution detains dentist on sexually harassing male patients charges
  • Egypt court orders release of female TikTok influencer; renews detention of another in human trafficking case
  • Egypt cabinet approves contract with French RATP to manage Cairo’s  new electric train line

Thursday

Parliament member issues request for further studies into Cairo Eye project

Friday

Saturday

Sunday

  • Egypt receives the first 50,000 doses batch of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine 
  • Egypt seeks to produce Covid-19 vaccines
  •  Egypt’s Sisi stresses need for binding deal on GERD in meeting with African Union commission head

Reports

 Read

Timeline 

From Twitter

Photo-Gallery

Plus

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Twitter Thread: Biden pauses F-35 sale to UAE

The Biden administration has put a temporary hold on several major foreign arms sales initiated by former President Donald Trump, including a massive $23 billion transfer of stealth F-35 fighters to the United Arab Emirates. Here is a collection of tweets about this decision.

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On Reconciliation With Qatar

Photo via AFP

In medieval times, Arab tribes had an unwritten agreement that prohibited infighting in four “forbidden months” – the months of Muharram, Rajab, Dhu al-Qa’dah, and dhu al-Hijjah, according to the Arabic calendar. This agreement was an armistice deal that allowed trade and pilgrimage, without solving the core differences between rival parties.  The latest reconciliation with Qatar can be considered a modern version of this medieval practice, albeit possibly for four years ahead. 

Reports suggest that in addition to the final statement of the Gulf Cooperation Council’s latest summit, the Gulf States have reached an understanding in terms of the reconciliation between the Arab Quartet (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE, and Egypt) and Qatar. In which, the Quartet have given up their previous demands from Qatar, replacing them with general principles for managing relations between the countries, such as non-infringement on states’ sovereignty, non-interference in their internal affairs, and cooperation in fighting threats and terror. It was also agreed that the points of contention between Qatar and its neighbours would be discussed in future bilateral talks between Qatar and each of the relevant countries.

Pledges. Principals. Promises. Whatever choice of words one can pick, what Qatar has offered in return for reconciliation are promises that will be hard to substantiate. On the surface, the reconciliation seems to be working well; even Egypt, an ardent opponent of Doha, has resumed diplomatic ties with Qatar.

Two Egyptian intelligence sources told Reuters that in a meeting with Egyptian and Emirati security officials, a Qatari foreign ministry official pledged that Qatar would not interfere in Egypt’s internal affairs. He also pledged “a change of orientation for Qatar’s Al Jazeera television channel, which is a state-funded and state-owned media outlet towards Cairo.”

But has Al-Jazeera changed its orientation? Egyptian anchor amr Adib has highlighted a report by Al-Jazeera Mubasher asserting that freedom has evaporated from Egypt, ten years after the Arab Spring. In another report, Al-Jazeera shares a report from another Qatari outlet critical of Egypt’s new ambitious high-speed rail project. One can debate the accuracy of those reports, but their hostility, albeit in subtle ways, towards the Egyptian leadership with whom Qatar has supposedly reconciled is undeniable.

By posting those reports,  it seems Qatar is testing the resolve and unity of the Arab Quartet. The reports contradict the spirit of reconciliation, snookering its opponents to choose from two bitter options: Either respond openly and risk breaking the unity of the Quartet, or remain quiet and allow Qatar a free pass.  

Without solving the core problems with Qatar, the Arab Quartet are facing the prospect of growing fissures among them, or even the potential of total disintegration of the Quartet’s unity as some of its members shift to discreet enmity towards Qatar while maintaining a veneer of unity. Both will be tough and will give Qatar a huge advantage over its opponents. 

Emirati writer Marayam al-Kaabi tweeted that Qatar before the boycott is Qatar after the reconciliation; nothing has changed, except the emergence of new voices asking not to harm the reconciliation.

Indeed, despite the lack of “hard” guarantees preventing Qatar from reneging on its pledges (as happened in the past), it will be difficult for the Arab Quartet to embark on another boycott of Qatar. If the Quartet does so, it will be back to square one, facing similar challenges that followed the 2017 boycott, from negative headlines, and potential legal challenges to foreign pressure, especially from the Biden administration, to reconcile again. 

No matter how you assess the outcomes of the latest GCC summit and Qatar reconciliation, one aspect has to be clear: The reconciliation in itself is not the only gain Qatar clinched at the GCC summit; perhaps more important is the fact that another boycott in the future would be an extremely unlikely event.

Unlike the four forbidden months during medieval times, the Arab Quartet is heading for at least “four forbidden years” of tough handling of their “sister,” Qatar, without another chance of a boycott, but with the potential for disunity or discreet enmity. 

Posted in Egypt, Middle East, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE | Tagged , , | Leave a comment