Why the Qatar crisis will not end soon

Here an English version of my last for Al-Hurra

 

Qatar crisis after a year photo

 

It has been a year since the start of the Qatar diplomatic crisis, when the Saudi-led coalition imposed a trade embargo on the country.  For Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt, however, it is a reminder of the dangerous impacts of Qatar’s love affair with cultish Islamism. The dispute with Qatar may not be the most dramatic in our region, which is already saturated with bloodshed and misery, but it represents a crucial battle for the post-Arab Spring order, one that will shape the Gulf states and the region for generations.

The conflict may seem perplexing. Amidst the fog of misinformation, lobbying, leaks, and rumors, it is hard to understand why the dispute has not been resolved yet. However, there appear to be three important elements behind its continuation:

First, a question of identity

For years, the Gulf States have preferred the “khaleeji” identity – a collective identity under the umbrella of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). They hoped common cultural values, social integration, and inter-marriage would harmonize the Gulf State societies and yield a united political vision. But just like its bigger brother, the Arab league, the GCC has proved to be a fragile union. Social and cultural commonalities alone do not necessarily lead to a successful political unity. In fact, the dispute with Qatar has exposed how conflicting, and often confused, national identities can sow the seeds of divisions.

While Qatar has opted to merge cultish Brotherhood Islam with its own national identity, the United Arab Emirates has adopted a bolder reformative religious discourse that openly opposes Islamism as an ideology. The Qatar crisis reflects how individual Gulf identities (Saudi, Emiratis, Kuwaiti, Bahraini, Omani, and Qatari) are still evolving, struggling to weave religion within their distinctive national identities. This struggle may take years to resolve.

Second, a battle for public image

Although both sides of the conflict have used mainstream and social media to pursue their agendas, the Qataris have arguably been ahead of their opponents. The Saudi-led coalition has started to catch up, but is still way behind Qatar in the battle to win hearts and minds, especially in various Western capitals.

A quick scan of the Western media’s published reports and opinion pieces on the crisis clearly shows that the majority of them favor Qatar’s position.

Explaining such a discrepancy is not easy. Perhaps Qatar has indirectly benefitted from the plethora of Western reporters and pundits who have developed a strong anti-Saudi Arabia stance, especially since the collapse of the Arab Spring revolts.

Since 2011, the Qataris fully understood modern warfare and made a strategic decision: For their tiny state to win, they had to align themselves with anti-state forces in the region, particularly the Islamist ones, and portray their regime as a supporter of freedom and rights.

Furthermore, Qatar has developed a dual approach. In the Western media Qatar portrays itself as a victim facing an unfair blockade from its neighbors. In the Arabic media, however, Qatar represents itself as the defiant underdog, an image that appeals to the Arab public, particularly those who are still buying Islamism’s resistance narrative.

On social media, a ghastly war of attrition has erupted between the two sides. Even football was not exempted. For example, pro-Qatar accounts flirted with conspiracy theoryby suggesting Saudi Arabia may be behind Egyptian player Mohamed Salah’s injuries during the Champion League Final to orchestrate an easy win over Egypt in the upcoming World Cup.

This ugly media war has ruptured any remaining bonds between Qatar and its neighbors, and made reconciliation virtually impossible.

Third, the American role

Initially, U.S. President Donald Trump accused the government of Qatar of funding extremism. Last month, however, the U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo,advocated a more conciliatory tone, and told Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir that the dispute needs to end.

Steven A. Cook, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, has explained the U.S.’s apparent U-turn by linking Trump’s desire for Gulf unity with his new approach on Iran. Indeed, a united Gulf stance may sound desirable in confronting Iran, but it does not exist in reality. In contrast to the enthusiastic reception from Saudi Arabia and the UAE to America’s decision to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal and reinstate sanctions against Iran, Qatar has taken a more cautious stance.The quest for Gulf unity has proved to be more elusive than many in Washington initially assumed. The endless lobbying of both sides in Washington has neither solved the crisis nor helped the U.S. achieve its goals.

On the first anniversary of the Qatari crisis, the distance between Doha and Riyadh is getting wider and wider. Qatar has survived the boycott, and scored a few points in the media war, but as I have written previously, Qatar has failed to drive a wedge between Saudi Arabia and the UAE  and failed to weaken the resolve of its opponents. In contrast, the Saudi coalition has adapted and recalibrated its tactics to the evolving new geostrategic realities.

In the presence of such a stalemate, the U.S. needs to focus on a more modest approach towards Gulf peace, but not necessarily unity. De-escalation and joint cooperation against Iran are more important to the U.S. than an unhappy marriage between rival Gulf States.

You can read the piece in Arabic here

 

 

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This Week in Egypt: Week 21 -2018 ( May 21-27)

Top Headlines

  • Future of Homeland party to form majority bloc in Egypt’s parliament
  • Qatar bans UAE, Saudi and Egyptian products as embargo anniversary approaches
  • Egypt’s top court orders temporary suspension of YouTube
  • Egyptian security forces detained prominent blogger and journalist Wael Abbas
  • Uncertainty about Ismail Alexandrani’s fate after Egyptian military denies issuing 10-year sentence
  • Egypt arrests opposition leader Hazim Abdelazim for publishing ‘false news’
  • Teary Salah goes off injured in Champions League final

Salah Ramos

 Main Headlines

 Monday

  • Egypt, Russia to sign deal for 7 billion Russian Industrial Zone in Port Said
  • Egypt to launch two international bid rounds for oil and gas exploration in 2018
  • Rights group accuses Egypt of mass demolition of homes in Sinai

Tuesday

  • Egyptian military court sentences journalist who reported on the Sinai insurgency to 10 years in prison on terror-related charges
  • Egypt’s Ministry of Military Production companies do not aim to compete with private sector
  • Egypt, Algeria, and Tunisia stress importance of implementing UN plans in Libya
  • Free Egyptians Party faces mass resignations of MPs in the lastest internal crisis
  • Suez Canal revenues rise to $479.3 million in April

Wednesday

  • Egyptian security forces detained prominent blogger and journalist Wael Abbas
  • Army spokesperson quashes HRW report on random demolition to houses in Sinai
  • Preparations are underway for President El-Sisi’s swearing-in ceremony on June 2
  • Four railway workers are referred to criminal court in Beheira train collision case
  • Jordan’s King Abdullah II to meet Egypt’s Sisi in Cairo
  • Egypt’s tourism revenuesjumped 83.3 percent in the first quarter of 2018

Thursday

  • Egypt expects artifacts seized in Italy to be returned home
  • German ambassador praises Egypt’s economic reforms

Friday

  • Swedish diplomat denied entry at Cairo airport
  • Egyptian cabinet approves of Catholic Church in new administrative capital
  • Egypt still needs time to adapt before World Cup: Coach Cuper

Saturday

Sunday

  • Mohamed Salah said is confident that he will play with Egypt at next month’s World Cup
  • Sergio Ramos is slammed for laughing as Mohamed Salah left pitch with injury
  • Egypt’s President Sisi calls Salah to ask about health after Champions League final injury
  • Egypt arrests opposition leader Hazim Abdelazim for publishing “false news”
  • Uncertainty about researcher Ismail Alexandrani’s fate after military deny 10-year sentence
  • Egypt’s Sisi discusses developments in Libya with France’s Macron by phone
  • Qatar bans  UAE, Saudi and Egyptian products as embargo anniversary approaches

Good Reports

  • Egypt opens a door and Gaza residentsrush for the exist. Abu Bakr Bashirand Jared Malsin
  • Egypt and Ethiopia fail to reach breakthrough in dam negotiations. Ayah Aman
  • Champions League final: Egyptians furious at Mo Salah injury. Sergio Ramos  is not popular in Egypt right now. BBC Monitoring

From Twitter

 

Video

  • UK Embassy’s officials wander Islamic Cairo using tuk-tuk

 Plus

Finally here are Jayson Casper’s prayers for Egypt

 

 

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This Week in Egypt: Week 20- 2018 ( May 14-20)

Top Headlines

  • Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia reach agreement on next steps for dam technical studies
  • Egypt’s Sisi orders Gaza border opened throughout the month of Ramadan
  • Egypt opens four North Sinai hospitals to the rising number of Palestinian protesters wounded by Israeli forces in Gaza
  • Sudan has summoned Egypt’s ambassador to complain about a TV series
  • ‘Sinai Province’ set up underground camps in Ismailia to train foreign militants
  • Egypt’s Sisi pardons 332 prisoners including youths and poor health conditions
  • Coptic Orthodox Archbishop of London gives prayer at UK’s royal wedding

 Main Headlines

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

Saturday

 Sunday

Good Reports

Good Read

From Twitter

Sports

Plus

Finally here are Jayson Casper’s prayers for Egypt

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Iran Deal and the Empowerment of Islamism

Here is an English version of my latest piece in Al-Hurra on Iran nuclear deal, which I have rejected since 2015.

You can read the Arabic version here

 

No Iran deal

“The Iran Deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into.”  With those tough words, American President Donald Trump terminatedthe United States’ participation in the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action(JCPOA) regarding Iran’s nuclear program. His decision has created a global uproar among supporters of the deal, and some applause from others who oppose it. Three years ago, I wrote against the Iran nuclear deal. Today, I still stand against it.

The Iran nuclear deal has never been just about that country’s nuclear ambitions. For the Iranian Mullahs, the deal has been a tool to clinch an acknowledgment, albeit indirectly, from the West, that their anti-modernity model is viable and successful. In 2015, I wrote that any hopes Iran would abandon its “path of violence and rigid ideology” after forging a deal with Western powers could turn out to be no more than wishful thinking.  Three years later, Iran’s toxic rule in the Syrian civil war, its backing of the Houthis in Yemen, and the domination of its proxy, Hezbollah, in Lebanon, are all undeniable facts. My fears have proven to be true.

However, it is alarming and disheartening to see that many liberal Westerners supported the deal, in spite of the damage Iranian rule has caused in many Middle Eastern countries. Worse still, these countries are still defending Iran.

A few weeks ago, French President Emmanuel Macron dazzled his audience in the American Congress by defending the liberal order. “We have encountered countless rendezvous with death, because we have this constant attachment to freedom and democracy,”the French President said.  He added: “Together with our international allies and partners, we are facing inequalities created by globalization, threats to the planet, our common good, attacks on democracies through the rise of illiberalism, and the destabilization of our international community by new powers and criminal states.”

However, in the same speech the French president defended the Iran deal, and together with Germany and the United Kingdom, has continued to support it, even after President Trump’s decision to withdraw.

Such a contradiction in the French stance sums up what is wrong with the current Western order. It claims to fight illiberalism, but then rushes in to forge deals with an illiberal Islamist regime. It faces threats from terrorism, but is willing to sign business agreements with those who worship and glorify death.

There are different types of illiberalism in the Middle East, but the worst is Islamist illiberalism. Political Islam, with its Sunni and Shia branches, is a dark, deeply regressive ideology that claims to provide an alternative to Western modernity. Islamists, however, prefer to preach the harsh version of their ideology to their local audience, and opt to address their Western audience in a different tune.

For years, I have watched certain Islamists trying to portray their ideology as benign and compatible with Western values. Iranians, in particular, have excelled at such an approach. They exploited the rise of ISIS, a predominantly Sunni radical group, to portray Iran-backed militias as counter-terrorism groups. That was a big fat lie.

In reality, both sub-branches of Islamism share many common beliefs. Moreover, there is no difference in savagery between radical Sunni and radical Shia groups. The only difference, however, is that the Shia groups are directly under the control of the Iran Revolutionary Guard, a force that funds and trains radicals, and channels their savagery, away from Western eyes, in their imperial grounds, particularly in Iraq and Syria. On the other hand, Sunni radicals are much more diverse, and have managed to metastasize in various Western countries.

On February 1, 1979, Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini flew from France to Iran in a chartered Air France Flight 4721. His grim face and black attire summed up the fate of the region in the years to follow. And his rule in Iran triggered a nasty trail of  black, bleak, and beyond. His predecessors did not moderate. In fact, they ruthlessly crushed two rebellions in Iran and supported Assad’s barbarism in Syria, while playing doves versus hawks to Western audiences

Liberalism does not mean cherry picking between various Islamist brands. It also does not mean taking the middle ground between Islamist and non-Islamist Muslims. Liberalism is about standing for Western values against those who undermine them, because political Islamists are not, and will never be, friends to the West. Moreover, liberal forces should not empower any branch of Islamism over the other. Such empowerment can only trigger a ruthless competition that will lead to more savagery and bloodshed in an already volatile Middle East

I do not advocate a regime change in Iran, and I certainly don’t support a nuclear war in the region. But let’s be clear, the Iranian regime has had no intention of coupling the abandonment of its nuclear program with an abandonment of its aggressive Islamist transnational ideology. Therefore, supporters of the Iran deal need to acknowledge that their initial hope for Iranian moderation has just been wishful thinking. Such acknowledgement would be the first step to get out of the current crisis and plan for a better future, free from whitewashing Islamism.

 

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This Week in Egypt: Week 19 – 2018 ( may 7-13)

Top Headlines 

  • Egypt’s credit rating is upgraded by S&P Global Ratings
  • Outrage erupts and protesters were arrested over Cairo metro price hike
  • No tangible results achieved in recent Addis Ababa tripartite meeting
  • Egypt follows with “great concern” developments of US withdrawal from Iran deal
  • Egypt’s Supreme State Security Prosecution says number of Wilayat Sinai terrorists received training in Syria and Iraq
  • Egyptian pop-singer Sherine acquitted on charges of ‘offending Egypt’ over Nile water comment

 Main Headlines

 Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

  • Egypt follows with great concern developments of US withdrawal from Iran deal
  • Egypt’s Supreme State Security Prosecution says number of Wilayat Sinai terrorists received training in Syria and Iraq
  • Water politics: Museveni invites Egypt’s president to visit the source of the Nile.
  • An Egyptian doctor is dismissed and sentenced to one year in prison over disagreement with local prosecutor
  • Egypt’s irrigation minister heads to South Sudan to discuss water cooperation
  • Egypt approves oil exploration deal with Italy’s Eni, Egyptian firm Tharwa off northern Sinai coast
  • Egyptian pop singer Sherine is acquitted on charges of ‘offending Egypt’ over Nile water comment

Thursday

Friday

Saturday

Sunday

Good Reports 

From Twitter

 

 

Sports

  • Egypt’s Mo Salahbreaks Premier League scoring record as Liverpool secure Champions League football

 Video

Plus

  • Archaeologists find remains of Roman-era templein Egypt dates back to the 2nd century reign of Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius

Finally here are Jayson Casper’s prayers for Egypt

 

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Iran Deal: A potential kiss of death for liberalism in the Middle East

As the world awaits the US President Trump’s decision on Iran nuclear deal, I herewith reblog my piece from 2015 on why I oppossed the deal. Two years later, as Iran and its allies control most of Syria, and dominate Lebanon’s political scene, I still stand with my views.

Nervana

Iran Mullah

Initially published in Egypt’s Ahram.

After 12 years of diplomatic proposals and 20 months of tough negotiations, theocratic Iran and world powers have reached a nuclear deal that, regardless of its potential advantages, is undoubtedly a victory for smart illiberalism and a potential kiss of death for the prospect of liberal, pluralistic democracies in the Middle East.

Both illiberal Shia and Sunni Islamists and illiberal non-Islamist autocrats could receive an enormous boost from the deal.

A few years ago, against all advice, I visited the Islamic Republic of Iran. To my surprise, I found a vibrant nation, with many liberal youth yearning for freedom and democracy. Those youth may now celebrate the lifting of sanctions and the end of isolation, but it is doubtful the nuclear deal will bridge the deep divide between them and their theocratic rulers.

For the Iranian Mullahs, the nuclear deal is an indirect acknowledgment…

View original post 819 more words

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This Week in Egypt: Week 18-2018 (Apr 30- May 6)

Top Headlines

  • Egypt wants to speed up negotiations on Ethiopian Dam
  • Nile dam won’t harm Egypt, says new Ethiopian leader
  • US Congress withholds aid to Egypt
  • Egypt’s FM said that sending Arab troops to Egypt is a possibility, but ministry asserted that his comments do not pertain to Egypt
  • Egypt’s foreign reserves hit a new record amid rigorous economic reforms
  • Khaled Mohieddin, Egypt’s last surviving 1952 revolutionary leaders dies

Khaled Moheeiddin

Khaled Mohieddin

 

Main Headlines

 Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

 Thursday

Friday

Saturday

Sunday

Good Reports

Good Read

From Twitter

Plus

Finally here are Jayson Casper’s prayers for Egypt

Posted in Diary of Aak, Egypt | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

This Week in Egypt: Week 17-2018 ( April 23-29)

Top Headlines

  • An Egyptian military court sentences former chief auditor Geneina to 5 years in prison for ‘broadcasting false news’
  • Egypt wants to speed up Ethiopia dam negotiations
  • Heavy rains pummel Cairo and parts of Egypt
  • Egyptian, Bahraini special forces conclude joint military exercise in Bahrain
  • Egypt decries HRW report on bad conditions due to ‘siege’ its army imposed on North Sinai
  • Death sentence upheld for six MB members over 2013 violence
  • Egypt approves £400 fines for people who pester tourists

Main Headlines

 Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

 Thursday 

Friday

Saturday

Sunday

Good Reports

From Twitter

Interview:

Plus

Finally here are Jayson Casper’s prayers for Egypt

Posted in Diary of Aak, Egypt | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Qatar crisis: Why Qatar is obsessed with the UAE

Here is an English version of my latest for Al-Hurra, you can read it in Arabic here

Qatar UAE

It has become increasingly clear that Qatar’s diplomatic crisis with its neighbours will not be solved anytime soon. When the dispute began in June 2017, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt imposed a travel and trade ban on Qatar over accusations of supporting terrorism. Western observers predicted that the dispute would be solved “soon.” The naïve prediction did not happen__and the crisis lingers on.

The Saudi-led coalition issued 13 demands to lift the blockade, which included closing down Al-Jazeera, the TV voice of the Arab spring, and dropping support for the Muslim Brotherhood. Thus far, Qatar has refused to fulfil those demands. Moreover, Qatar has maintained its bond with radicals despite reassuring the American administration of its determination to fight terrorism. On April 11, Qatari PM was guest of honour at an event hosted by one of the world’s most prolific terror financiers, Abd al-Rahman bin Umayr al-Nuaymi, weeks after his government designated Mr Nuaymi a financier of terrorism.

Too much ink has been wasted on articles poorly analysing the conflict, often defending Qatar and portraying its neighbours as unreasonable in their demands. The latest article published in the Financial Times described the Qatari crisis as a “blockade,” and stated that it makes “no sense.”

However, the boycott of Qatar makes absolute sense, except to those who insist on seeing it as tribal Gulf flare-up that will eventually end after token compromises, complimented with hugs and handshakes. In fact, the crisis has reached a critical juncture, with broken bonds, and it is unlikely to be resolved any time soon.

There are several political, ideological, and even tribal, dimensions behind the dispute between Qatar and its neighbours. Nonetheless, the core of the crisis is a dispute on strategic vision. Saudi Arabia and its allies aim to preserve Arab nations against a creeping trans-national Islamism threat that comes from Iran, Turkey, and their clients in the Arab world. Aligned with Turkey and Iran, Qatar, considers trans-national Islamism a golden asset and a fast–track to dominance and power, even if the cost is the collapse of states in the region.

Instead of addressing the risks of Islamism and radicalism on fragile Arab states, Qatar opted to engage in a blame game, trivializing the conflict into a personality clash, with comments like “Those Emiratis are behind this crisis.” I have stopped counting the number of comments that I read or heard from Qatar supporters who specifically blame the UAE for the crisis.

Qatar has a history of turbulent relationswith the UAE, but the current boycott of Qatar was triggered by collective grievances from Saudi Arabia and all other countries that joined the anti-Qatar coalition, not just the UAE. Nonetheless, blaming or singling out the UAE as the root of the crisis is a deliberate Qatari policy to achieve three main purposes:

First, to break the unity of its opponents: Qatar aims to drive a wedge between Saudi Arabia and the UAE, by portraying the UAE as an unfaithful partner with ulterior motives that can harm Saudi Arabia. Qatar hopes that planting seeds of doubt will break Saudi resolve and drain the Kingdom psychologically, which can ultimately lead to some crucial compromises to Qatar.

Second, to win support from western policy makers: Doha has invested heavily in a diplomatic charm offensive, coupled with a media and lobbying campaign, particularly in the United States. The goal of this PR assault is to blur the reasons behind the dispute with its neighbours, and to steer the argument within the corridors of power in Washington to its favour. The ultimate aim is to eventually entice the US to continue pressing Saudi Arabia and its allies to accept a compromise deal to solve the crisis.

Third, drag the UAE into defensive tactics. Qatar fully understands how some western liberals and leftists have a strong sympathetic affinity to political Islam coupled with a deep despise of Arab monarchs. With that in mind, Qatar has managed to exploit this combination, and has started to portray itself, disingenuously, as a patron of democracy and pluralism in the region, unlike its rival the UAE. With such devious tactics, Qatar’s aim is to push the UAE to defend its own regional policies rather than focusing on Qatari reckless policies against its neighbours.

Arguably, Qatar has had partial success. Undoubtedly many western outlets that have written in support of Qatar, adopting its narratives that portray the boycott as a “blockade.” This may have also succeeded in clinching some neutrality from the Trump administration towards the conflict.

With that said, however, Qatar has failed to drive a wedge between Saudi Arabia and the UAE and failed to weaken the resolve of the coalition resolve. The coalition continues to insist on fulfilling the initial 13 demands placed upon Qatar. Both Saudi Arabia and the UAE may have their own differences in policy and vision, but they both understand that any compromise to Qatar will not only empower their devious tiny neighbor, but also open the flood gates for both the Mullahs and the Ottomans to drown their thrones and dominate the entire region. This simple fact is surprisingly missing from the debate in Washington.

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

This Week In Egypt: Week 16- 2018 ( April 16-22)

Top Headlines

  • Egypt to decline any request by US to send troops to Syria
  • Egypt regrets lack of response from Ethiopia and Sudan to invitation to discuss dam on Friday, says FM Shoukry
  • Sudan complains to UN over Egypt holding elections in Halaib triangle
  • Egypt Faces 54 Billion Cubic Meters Water Shortage
  • Egyptian parliament’s majority coalition moves to form political party 
  • Salah wins English PFA Player of the Year award

 

Mo Salah

Main Headlines

 Monday

  • Egypt’s jobless rate dips to 11.8 %, but private sector growth remains elusive
  • Egypt’s President Sisi attends Gulf Shield military drill in Saudi Arabia
  • Egypt’s Suez Canalrevenues rise to $463 million in March
  • Egypt to raise tobacco tax revenuesby EGP 7.072 billion in 2018-19
  • Egypt’s FM Shoukry heading to Burundito discuss bilateral ties, Nile water issues

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

  • Egypt regrets lack of response from Ethiopia and Sudan to invitation to discuss dam on Friday, says FM Shoukry
  • IMF expectsEgypt’s economic growth rate to reach 5.8 percent in 2019
  • Egypt’s Minister of Defence Sedki Sobhy discusses regional developments with with Greek counterpart
  • Steigenberger Hotels to expand in Egypt with new hotel in Luxor in Luxor

Friday 

Saturday

Sunday

 Good Reports

 From Twitter

 

 

 

Interview

  • Cypriot President Anastasiades discusses relations with Egypt

Plus

Finally here are Jayson Casper’s prayers for Egypt

Posted in Diary of Aak, Egypt | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment