New Age Islam Edit Bureau
19 August 2017
Why Daesh Took Its Terror Campaign to
By Ben Rich
Qatar Looks For Solutions in Kerala
Hezbollah Drives Lebanon into the
Arms of Murderers
By Diana Moukalled
America: A Tale of Racism
By Ahmad Al-Farraj
Iran, Israel and Destroying the
By Randa Takieddine
Dialogue with Iran through Qatar
By Salman Al-Dosary
Dubai Still In Lead, But Race for
Gulf Financial Supremacy Is Hotting Up
By Frank Kane
It’s Not Only Egypt’s Trains That Are
on the Wrong Track
By Mohammed Nosseir
As US Power Wanes, Here Comes China
By Dr. Manuel Almeida
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
August 19, 2017
The location and targeting of the attack
deviates from Daesh's previous efforts
Despite its (relatively) low body count and
primitive execution, Thursday's terrorist attack in Barcelona shocked many
local and international onlookers. Daesh group was quick to claim
responsibility for the attack, in which a van was deliberately driven into
pedestrians on Barcelona's famed Las Ramblas strip. At least 13 people are
dead, and around 100 have been left injured.
The location and targeting of the attack
deviates from Daesh's previous efforts. These have typically focused on
punishing countries directly involved in military operations against it in
Syria and Iraq.
But how reliable are its claims of
responsibility? And why was Spain chosen, given its relatively inconsequential
role in the fight against Daesh?
Verifying the culpability of terror attacks
can traditionally be a tricky affair. Given that organisations that engage in
terrorism are doing so from a position of weakness, there is always an
incentive to lie in order to bolster mystique and inflate the image of threat.
But in this regard, Daesh seems to differ
from previous groups. It has typically been reliably truthful in what it claims
to have been its actions.
One Australian example of this can be found
in the 2014 Lindt Cafe siege.
The perpetrator, Man Haron Monis,
proclaimed he was acting under Daesh auspices. But despite this declaration,
and the potential propaganda victory it could bring, Daesh resisted such
advances and distanced itself from the incident.
While Daesh would go on to posthumously
praise Monis' actions, it never made any explicit claims to having organised or
directed them. No pre-existing relationship was found in the subsequent
This incident, along with many others,
seems to indicate that while Daesh claims a butcher's bill of heinous
activities, it doesn't tend to overtly lie about them.
Such a policy, while initially appearing
counter-intuitive, maintains Daesh's perception as a trustworthy source of
information. This is particularly important in recruitment efforts, and makes
it difficult for governments to challenge the Daesh claims in
For Daesh, maintaining a twisted sense of
chivalrous virtue remains paramount.
The Barcelona attack also reflects Daesh's
view of the world as a civilisational clash.
Described as a "reluctant
partner" in the anti-Daesh coalition, Spain has resisted entreaties to join
military efforts. Instead, it has opted for what it sees as a less risky role -
providing logistical aid and training to local Iraqi forces, as well as
preventing homegrown attempts to support Daesh abroad.
Spain's limited role in the fight,
particularly in contrast to other terror victims such as France and the US,
might lead one to expect it to be relatively low on Daesh's hit list.
But in terms of Daesh's conflict narrative,
Spain represents just another manifestation of a hostile Western civilisation in
a state of war against the Islamic community. This leaves it more than open for
At a spiritual level, Spain also holds a
special place in Daesh's mythology.
Once a part of the Islamic empire,
al-Ándalus, as it is known in Arabic, is seen by many Daesh ideologues as a
natural territorial part of the end-state caliphate and currently under direct
occupation by infidels.
Terrorist reprisals like this attack are
likely to intensify temporarily against Western targets throughout Europe and
further abroad over the coming months and years, as the Daesh is systematically
deconstructed on its home turf in Iraq and Syria.
Daesh remains heavily dependant on an image
of defiant dynamism and a commitment to challenge the international status quo,
which it claims subjugates the chosen community. As its ability to function as
a "state" continues to decline, it will increasingly seek to maintain
such a mystique through acts of spite against those that have prevented it from
achieving its goal of a "caliphate".
Despite a likely future increase in
terrorist attacks, Daesh also risks a growing public disinterest and apathy
toward its activities.
As one commentator has written, the
banality and nontheatrical nature of Daesh's approach to terrorism -
particularly in contrast to Al Qaeda's keen eye for spectacular symbology - has
left many onlookers less than impressed and far from terrified. - The
Ben Rich is Lecturer in International
Relations and Security Studies, Curtin University
By Jameel Al-Thiyabi
It has been three months since the Kingdom,
United Arab Emirates, Kingdom of Bahrain and Egypt cut ties with Qatar. There
is no immediate settlement in sight, and the four countries will not back down
on the conditions and demands they have set. After all, their patience has worn
thin due to Qatar’s policies, which are against all international norms and
The situation has been complicated because
of the malicious policies of Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani, former Emir of Qatar,
and Hamad Bin Jassim, former Prime Minister of Qatar, and because of Sheikh
Tamim Bin Hamad’s refusal to address the demands which he pledged to do, and
his refusal to abide by the six principles announced by the states which call
for combating terrorism.
Qatar’s government has been seeking support
in several world capitals and from global organizations but its efforts have
proved futile. It has left no stone unturned searching for support and sympathy
everywhere to the extent that it has even paid money for advertisements posted
on London buses and taxicabs and broadcast on American TV channels. All this is
meant to promote the idea of Qatar being oppressed and downtrodden and of being
the victim. Again, this mendacious propaganda has proved to be futile, as the
governments of other countries have not fallen for it.
The laughable thing is the Qatari
government’s decision to resort to the Indian state of Kerala. The government
hired some mercenaries there and paid them millions of rupees to improve its
tarnished image. This clearly shows that Qatar has a bad reputation and a weak
image, an image that has changed since 5 June 2017. Today, the international
community views Qatar with suspicion.
The Qatari leadership should realize that
going to Washington, London, Paris or even Kerala will not resolve its dispute
with its neighbouring sisterly countries nor will it end this boycott. It also
will not cancel the demands calling upon it to change its negative behavior.
Qatar should realize that the only solution lies in addressing the demands of
the four countries.
The desired solution lies in the Riyadh
agreement. Egypt and the three Gulf countries are not the only ones that have
cut ties with Qatar because of its policies; there is also Kuwait. Kuwaiti Emir
Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad has already refused Qatar’s malicious policies and warned
against their repercussion on the solid Gulf Council.
The Emir of Kuwait, who plays the role of
mediator in this unprecedented crisis, will not remain neutral on this forever.
He knows very well that Qatar has worked for the fragmentation and division of
the Kingdom as well as the militarization of some of its regions. Qatar
continues to work to sow sedition and destabilize the security situation in the
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
It continues to fuel revolutions and
uprisings, gives bribes to corrupt persons and undermines the security of other
countries in order to achieve the objectives of the Muslim Brotherhood’s vision
in which the Qatari government believes. Let us not forget that Sheikh Sabah
Al-Ahmad played the mediator’s role in the Riyadh agreement in 2013 and
complementary addenda in 2014.
The Qatar government is now bogged down in
a deep quagmire even if it tries to pretend otherwise. It has complicated the
crisis and internationalized it when it should have contained it with sisterly
countries. It continued to manoeuvre and lie until the crisis got out of
control. Neither Iran nor Turkey can help Qatar at this stage. No matter how
smart Qatar pretends to be and no matter how many billions it pays, it will not
succeed in this. It continues to lose and will suffer from more losses and this
will cause the Qatari people to suffer as well from consequences from which
they could have been spared.
Using Al-Jazeera TV channel and other media
channels, which it runs secretly, will not help Qatar in promoting misleading
propaganda, the Muslim Brotherhood, Al-Qaeda and Hezbollah. Everyone can now
see through these flagrant lies. The Qatari government has betrayed its
sisterly Gulf countries but this betrayal will not undermine the strength and
unity of the sisterly countries and will not achieve the Qatari government’s
It is high time that the Qatari leadership
listens to the voice of reason and wisdom or else it will have to face more
dire and severe consequences in the near future.
Hezbollah Drives Lebanon into the Arms
Hezbollah has turned its back on all those
who have protested against reviving relations between Beirut and Damascus. This
time, the party did not infiltrate across the Syrian border to fight, capture
hostages or smuggle arms and money. Instead, it sent to Damascus one of its
members, the Minister of Industry, Hussein Hajj Hassan, to embarrass an already
divided Lebanese government, challenge Lebanon’s neutrality in Syria’s war and
declare the return of diplomatic relations that have been frozen for years.
Despite an explicit ban by the prime
minister, Saad Hariri, on ministerial visits to Syria in an official capacity,
the minister attended the Damascus International Fair, an event to promote the
reconstruction of Syria. Disregarding the political speeches and verbal
protests that accompanied the visit, with claims that the minister was not
representing the government, what is happening is a clear forced normalization
of relations between Beirut and Damascus. “The Syrian regime has triumphed over
terrorism,” the minister said, praising the criminal Assad regime and helping
it to evade any responsibility.
Let us be clear: This was a visit
undertaken by a Lebanese minister in the name of Lebanon (not to mention in
defiance of the anger of some of the Lebanese people) to a regime that is
against the Lebanese and Syrian peoples. The official normalization of relations
with the Syrian regime, forcibly imposed, is the culmination of Hezbollah’s
achievements over the years, thanks to its military strength and the enormous
political and financial support provided by Iran. However, we must not forget
that what happened was also a result of the failure of Hezbollah’s opponents,
either because of a reduction in political and financial support or because of
wrong choices made in politics and management.
It is also important to remind ourselves
what happened on the Lebanese-Syrian border at Jroud Arsal over the past few
weeks. Hezbollah’s “war” with Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham, formerly the Al-Qaeda
offshoot the Nusra Front, led to the withdrawal of 120 JFS fighters from their
positions on both sides of the border, and their transport to a rebel haven in
Idlib. In fact, the propaganda was louder than the actions and their results.
The exchange deal did not even get close to the fact that more than one million
Syrian refugees have fled to Lebanon.
In Lebanon, they are putting restraints on
refugees and turning a blind eye to the tragedies they bring with them from
Syria. The “war of the barren areas” was portrayed as a prelude to finding a
Lebanese solution to the refugee issue. In fact, it did not come close to
helping the refugees. On the contrary, it has exacerbated their situation.
Turning a blind eye to their stories can be
compared to disregarding other stories, which say that the Assad regime, now
forcibly allied to Lebanon because of Hezbollah’s pressure and support, does
not want the refugees to return. The Syrian regime today controls more than 80
percent of the areas from which the refugees have been displaced, but it shows
no positive intention regarding their return. Not only that, but Bashar Assad
himself has said that the Syrian social fabric is better off without the
displaced Syrians. Perhaps Hezbollah does not want their return either. For the
party and Iran, Syrian welfare is a lot more important than Lebanese welfare.
The refugees, if they returned to their homes, would constitute a demographic
bloc that would rearrange the sectarian map in the areas of Syria where
Hezbollah has seized control.
The Lebanese management of the Syrian
refugee crisis is a matter of political and moral arrogance, especially when
Lebanon takes the side of the regime that caused the suffering of the refugees
in the first place, with the full support of a Lebanese political party.
Against this disgraceful background,
Hezbollah’s minister took a step forward to pave the road for the normalization
of relations between Damascus and Beirut. This is the same road that has
already been taken to smuggle plans and weapons to kill us and many others.
Hezbollah has always openly pledged
allegiance to these murderers. Once again, it is handing Lebanon over to them.
18 August 2017
American President Donald Trump is going
through a crisis these days. It’s a real test for him as president of the
country that’s described as the leader of the free world which is the tolerant
democratic world that believes in individuals’ and group’s rights no matter
what their colour, race or religion is.
The crisis is linked to racist activity of
some extremist right-wing groups in America. They are racist Nazi movements
that believe in white supremacy and they oppose all laws of equality. The most
prominent of these groups is the Ku Klax Klan which was established in the
American South after President Abraham Lincoln defeated the separatists who
opposed liberating black people.
The KKK is still present to this day and
it’s supported by dozens of other racist organizations.
The KKK was formed after the racist
separatists’ defeat in the American South in 1865 and after the South was
subdued by Washington. It pursued black people and abused them, and it had
supporters in all of the government’s sectors, i.e. in the police, courts..etc.
Black people suffered from this group’s
assault for decades especially that they were liberated from slavery but they
remained second-class citizens according to the law as there were strict racist
laws to separate black and white people in schools, public facilities and every
place where people gathered.
After around a century of racial
discrimination, black people engaged in strong activity and violence erupted.
The federal government realized it must do something before the situation
escalates and worsens.
A History of Violence
In 1960, the US elected the young John
Kennedy as president. He was a democrat with an impressive charisma and he had
a humanitarian agenda that included achieving justice and peace and supporting
the poor. He decided to save America from serious escalation of conflicts
between black and white people but he was tragically assassinated in Dallas in
Texas in 1963.
He was young when he died and his
assassination remains a mystery that’s difficult to understand although it’s
been more than 50 years since he was killed and thousands of books and movies
were produced. His vice president Lyndon B. Johnson succeeded him.
He was a humanitarian but not as much as
Kennedy but he implemented the latter’s project and achieved a miracle by
issuing a law that ends racial segregation and that imposes equality between
black and white people.
Although this historical decision has
worked as it should until this day, extremist right-wing groups did not halt
their racist activity which reached its peak ever since Trump was elected. This
is another story which we will discuss in another article.
Iran, Israel and Destroying the Region
Western diplomatic circles close to Israel
have been circulating information – supplied by the latter – which stipulates
that Iran has stepped up its support and arms’ supplies to Hezbollah in
Lebanon, particularly on the Lebanese-Syrian borders. According to these
diplomats, Iran provided Hezbollah with a huge supply of missiles and it is
training Lebanese fighters, among others, in Lebanon and not in Syria.
Colleague Philip Abi Aql wrote in L’orient
Le Jour that President Donald Trump told Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri
that Iran supplied Hezbollah with 150,000 missiles and that they only had
10,000 missiles before. The question now is where is Iran taking Lebanon to?
Will we again pay the price of the alliance between part of the Lebanese
government and Hezbollah?
A lot has been said about the army and its
defence of Lebanon and battle against ISIS on the borders. The American
administration is supplying the Lebanese army with equipment it needs.
However, unfortunately for Lebanon, Iran
has managed to impose its influence on the country through Hezbollah and its
Christian allies that represent the Lebanese state. The Lebanese people now
wait for Hassan Nasrallah to deliver speeches to know his strategy in the
region and inside Lebanon.
Iran has been funding Hezbollah and its
allies for years because it wants to maintain the presence of the Shiite
crescent on the borders with Syria and seeks to control part of Syria. The last
thing Lebanon needs are Hezbollah’s threats that they will defeat Israel.
Lebanon cannot bear more destruction and
wars. The Lebanese state is not like it was in 2006 when Israel launched its
brutal war on Lebanon. Hezbollah’s influence has expanded now and it’s no
secret that Lebanon suffers from this hegemony that no one in the government
No one in the government can prevent
Hezbollah from fighting in Syria to defend the criminal regime and no one can
prevent Hezbollah ministers from visiting Damascus. No one can implement the UN
Security Council resolution to disarm Hezbollah as on the contrary, Iran has
stepped up its armament of Hezbollah. Meanwhile, Hezbollah claims that it is
helping Lebanon avoid a new war with the Israeli enemy.
Lebanon is located between two regional
destructive powers, Israel and Iran. The policy of dissociating the country
from the region’s wars is naive because major powers in Lebanon are fighting in
Syria and an important part of the state – especially those who aspire to
become presidents later – is allied with Hezbollah.
Hezbollah helped the Syrian regime destroy
Syria and murder its people, and by fighting this war, it contributed to
displacing millions of Syrians. Lebanon alone hosts 1.5 million Syrian refugees
and social tensions between them and the Lebanese people have reached a very
dangerous level. Hezbollah put Lebanon under Iran’s mercy and impoverished it
through the Syrian refugees.
It is killing Shiite youths who are
brainwashed into thinking that they will be martyrs if they fight. What
martyrdom is that when they are dying so Bashar al-Assad survives and Iran
maintains its influence over Lebanon?
The situation in Lebanon will remain
dangerous as long as Iran, Hezbollah and Israel control its fate, and
especially that everyone in the region has left it on its own in a raging sea
contaminated with problems.
By Salman al-Dosary
Qatar’s new lie flew out the window of its
“fingers crossed” policy which it had been implementing since the quartet
boycott. This time, Doha claimed that Saudi Arabia wants a mediation with Iran.
This statement was never declared by any
Saudi official or even the Iraqi Foreign Minister for example. It was reported
that while he was in Iran, Iraqi Interior Minister Qassim al-Araji stated
Riyadh has asked for Iraq’s mediation.
Saudi Arabia was quick in denying the
reports about seeking mediation,” Saudi Arabia has not requested any mediation
in any way with the Republic of Iran,” adding that what has been circulated on news
in this regard is completely untrue, logic and series of events in the region
makes it impossible that Saudi Arabia would request a mediation with Iran amid
Aside from that, negotiations with Iran was
impossible especially after Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman settled the
issue and stated his country’s clear position of this supposed dialogue: “There
is no common ground between us and Iran”.
The Prince said there was no room for
dialogue with Iran that is busy preparing to control the Islamic world. But,
what made Qatar rush and promote such a false statement before even making sure
of its validity?
The answer to that question can be summed
in three points. First of all, the quartet boycott proved that Doha has no
policy other than promoting lies.
Initially, Qatar tried to make it sound
that this is not a boycott but a siege. Then, it claimed that Qatari citizens
were banned from Umrah, which was debunked as 1,600 Qatari nationals entered
Saudi Arabia just few days before severance of ties.
After that, Doha tried to internationalize
Hajj, before retracting its statement following a strongly worded response from
Saudi Arabia warning it “not to play with fire”. Again, Qatar tried to spread a
lie that its airlines are flying above the four countries, which is surely not
true. Not to forget the organized campaign that Qatar used to resort to whether
secretly, or through its media outlets, or indirectly.
The second reason is that Qatar is trying
to alleviate the pressure on it after its openness on Iran. Everyone is
alienating themselves from the capital and spearhead of terrorism and it is no
secret that collaborating with Tehran would put Qatar in the same category.
Iran wanted to spread chaos and destabilize the stability and security of the
If Qatar chose to be in the same league as
Iran, then it surely is practicing a policy that is harmful to the region and
the world, as well as consolidating the fears that drove regional countries to
cut ties with it. Doha is even falsely trying to include Saudi Arabia in the
The third reason for Qatar’s promotion of
this exposed lie is that for years now, Doha had been repeatedly trying to
force the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to approach Tehran. The Iraqi lie
presented an open window to carry on with its attempts.
I was assigned to cover the Doha Gulf
Summit of 2007 and everyone was surprised with the participation of the former
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the first Iranian president to ever
participate in a Gulf summit since the council’s establishment in 1981.
Back then, a Gulf minister told me that
they weren’t aware of the invitation. He said: “We hadn’t been aware of that
and we weren’t consulted. We knew it from media.” Another Gulf official stated
that there is Gulf “disgust” because of Ahmadinejad’s presence.
Doha even took advantage of the opportunity
that GCC Sec-Gen Abdul Rahman al-Attiyah declared that the Iranian presidential
invitation was sent due to a “joint Gulf wish”, which turned out to be false
Just like that, Qatar chose over night to
turn the tables on its principles. Doha participated in the war on Houthis then
suddenly announced it was done out of courtesy. It developed a relation with
Iran and constantly tried to deceive others otherwise. Sensible and sane
countries do not change their principles. Stances change based on political
Concerning dialogue with Iran, if Tehran
continued with its sabotaging methods, then negotiations and mediations are
useless. Once it changes its policy, then no one will be against stability in
the region and countries’ rapprochement.
Dialogue is not possible while Iran
dangerously escalates its expansion policies through its militias and
accomplices in six Arab countries. Negotiations are not possible as long as
Qatar keeps up with its hostile policy against Arab and regional countries.
Dubai Still In Lead, But Race for Gulf
Financial Supremacy Is Hotting Up
By Frank Kane
The Dubai International Financial Center
(DIFC) last week gave an update on the impressive plans it has to expand — both
physically and commercially — as part of a 10-year plan that aims to triple its
size by 2024.
On the real estate side of the strategy,
work is progressing well. The two big flagship projects are: A $280 million
plan to link the current Gate complex with the southern end of the DIFC
jurisdiction via an avenue of commercial, retail and leisure facilities; and a
new $50 million office block addition to the Gate Village complex. Both will
open in the first half of next year, according to Nabil Al-Kindi, the DIFC’s
real estate chief.
That progress is matched by advances on the
financial business side. Nearly 22,000 people now work at the center, making
the 2024 target of 50,000 eminently achievable; there are some 463 financial
firms registered at DIFC, against a target of 1,000 in seven years; assets under
management — also forecast to triple — got a big boost last year when HSBC
moved its Middle East headquarters to DIFC.
It is just as well the DIFC’s plan is on
track, because it is facing increased competition to remain the leading
financial center in the region. Not that policymakers would describe it as a
race. The public stance is that Dubai welcomes the increased competition
provided by the Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM), just down the road in the UAE
capital, and welcomes the opportunities offered by the boom in financial
services in Saudi Arabia.
But privately, it is looking over its
shoulder at Abu Dhabi and Riyadh as contenders for its crown as the premier
financial market place in the Arabian Gulf.
Which is why comments a couple of weeks ago
from Bill Winters, the chief executive of Standard Chartered, caused some
concern in DIFC. His bank has been a key member of the center since it opened
in 2004, and a big chunk of its global business is managed through the DIFC.
Winters was asked by Reuters in London
about the effect of the ongoing standoff between the members of the Anti-Terror
Quartet (ATQ) and Qatar over allegations of terrorism funding. “There is a lot
of benefit we get from having a Dubai hub, we are looking to see what the
effect of this will be. There is a risk of turning away from the UAE,” he
DIFC officials were quick to dismiss the
report as a throwaway reaction spoken in haste, and certainly it is hard to see
how the Qatar situation would affect Dubai directly or immediately.
If big financial institutions were to avoid
the Gulf altogether because of the increased instability, Dubai might lose some
business along with the rest. But it is also well placed to pick up any new
business from financial institutions that want to avoid sanctioned Doha.
The Qatari capital stands to lose more than
any other city in the Gulf. In the current climate, why would a big global
financial institution want to be there rather than Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Riyadh or
The risk of any kind of financial
involvement with Qatar has become apparent in recent weeks, with the UAE
running an informal blacklist for banks with Qatari shareholders seeking to get
involved in government-related transactions.
There was also the suggestion that Qatar’s
presence as a 10 percent shareholder of the London Stock Exchange will be the
clincher in persuading the government of Saudi Arabia to opt for New York as
the venue for the forthcoming initial public offering (IPO) of $2 trillion
rated Saudi Aramco. That is one downside to the Qatari policy of “soft power.”
Wherever the Aramco IPO ends up, the
preparations for that listing, and the $200 billion privatization of other
state-owned companies in the Kingdom, will also increase the pressure on DIFC.
While some bankers will prefer to live in Dubai and commute to Saudi Arabia,
there will inevitably be a boost to financial business located in the Kingdom.
HSBC, Citibank and Mitsubishi of Japan have
all recently announced plans to increase employee numbers in Saudi Arabia in
anticipation of the fees bonanza to come from the economic transformation set
in train by the Vision 2030 strategy.
Dubai is aware of the opportunities Saudi
Arabia presents, but so too is ADGM, which you could argue is better placed to
win it, in view of the close relationship between senior policymakers in Abu
Dhabi and Riyadh.
Competition between Dubai and Abu Dhabi, so
far largely confined to their rivalry in financial technology (fintech)
initiatives, looks set to hot up.
We will get a clearer snapshot of the
current standing of competing regional financial centres next month, when the
biannual index of global financial centers is published by British consultancy
Z/Yen Partners and the China Development Institute.
The “big five” hubs — London, New York,
Singapore, Hong Kong and Tokyo — will probably continue to dominate, but look
out for advances by other Asian cities, and from the Middle East. Political
problems in the UK and America can only serve to emphasize the eastward drift
of global capital.
It’s Not Only Egypt’s Trains That Are on
the Wrong Track
Complaining that trains in the Netherlands
are often delayed by a few minutes, a Dutch friend told me: “If other nations
have punctual trains, we should not demand less.” While the Dutch criticize
their railway’s lack of punctuality, we in Egypt pray that we will reach our
destinations safely, no matter the delay.
Living in a country that has one of the
highest road and railway accident rates in the world lowers our expectations.
Rather than dream of a comfortable, punctual and affordable commuter rail
network, we hope only to arrive home in one piece.
Just over a week ago, 42 people died and
more than 100 were injured when two trains collided near Khorshid station on
the outskirts of Alexandria. Human error was blamed for the disaster. Sadly,
news of train collisions, bus crashes caused by drivers falling asleep at the
wheel or boats sinking because of passenger overload is no longer shocking in
The Egyptian state likes to brag about its
success in expanding road networks and building bridges and infrastructure, and
argues that the high population growth rate and citizens’ ignorance are the
main reasons for the deterioration of facilities. Seeming to value human lives
less than infrastructure expansion results in building more roads on which
people can be more easily killed.
Human beings are the most crucial and
advanced component of any country’s modernization effort. However, when the
government does not appear to truly value the life of its citizens, it is
unlikely that less educated drivers will do so. The Egyptian government appears
to believe that human development is all about the ability to digest technical
knowledge and eventually pass various exams, overlooking the fact that human
development generally should aim at having well-educated, responsible citizens
who know how to properly and effectively react to a crisis.
As was the case with the Khorshid tragedy,
the government often attributes these accidents to human error. But the
“humans” in these cases are often government employees. Videos on social media
showing public buses speeding or train conductors smoking hashish at work
should not only lead to the perpetrators being fired, but to changes in the
system to prevent their colleagues from indulging in the same behavior.
Neglecting genuine human development and
rejecting the use of technology are the real reasons for Egypt’s high rate of
road and railway accidents. A small device can be placed on any vehicle to
prevent it from speeding and determine its location. The state should use its
substantially inflated workforce to avoid employee misconduct by reducing
working hours, while maintaining strict discipline and productivity.
The government regularly advances the
argument that it is working under strict budget constraints. However, Egypt’s
plans for a nuclear energy plant at Dabaa, even with a $25 billion loan from
Russia, refute this argument. A nation that cannot prevent avoidable road and
rail accidents should not even dream of a nuclear power plant, even one managed
by international experts. The project should be abandoned completely and
immediately. We need to prove that we can crawl before insisting that we can
run a marathon. Instead, let’s invest the money in reducing our accident rate.
Empowering Egypt’s human capital would
enable them to go beyond their normal capacities, walking the extra mile to
prove that they are responsible citizens. We need to create a harmonious
relationship between our people and the engines they operate. Egyptian
government employees need to understand that driving a vehicle, or a train
carrying hundreds of people, requires an exceptionally responsible and
conscientious citizen. They will not realize this on their own; we desperately
need good governance to apply this vision.
New roads alone will not produce
professional employees, but educated citizens could easily build and develop
solid roads, and much more. We have been using our resources to expand concrete
structures that won’t function properly unless they are managed by the right
people. The Egyptian government needs to work on better developing its
citizens, who will be the true assets of modernization. By limiting our
ambitions, we have ended up with a miserable transport system that lacks all
comfort and safety.
The waning US influence in the Middle East,
tied to the Iraq debacle, the global financial crisis, the so-called pivot to
Asia and an often confusing regional strategy, has not left a vacuum. Or if it
did, it was of short duration.
Russia, Iran and even Daesh — from Syria
and Iraq to Libya and Yemen — have made inroads in recent years in pursuit of
their respective goals, contributing decisively to, among other crises, the
catastrophe in Syria, the biggest the region has witnessed in recent decades.
The substantial American military presence in the region, these days focused
primarily on counterterrorism, seems to have offered little in the way of
But an often more discreet but certainly no
less relevant player continues to enhance its influence in the Gulf and the
wider Middle East: China. The last few weeks reveal the ever-faster pace with
which the Asian giant is establishing its presence.
In July, on the 90th anniversary of the
People’s Liberation Army, China opened its first overseas military base, in
Djibouti. Although labelled a logistics facility, designed to support the
Chinese navy’s participation in humanitarian and counter-piracy missions, the
base is strategically located at the door of the Red Sea leading to the Suez
This month, Chinese banks lent over $3.5 billion
to Oman, crucial for the sultanate to cover this year’s budget deficit and
proceed with its austerity plans following the slump in oil prices. China’s
financial heft had already played a key part — together with Saudi Arabia and
the UAE — in unblocking the IMF’s bailout program for Egypt in November last
year. In 2016, China became the largest investor in the Arab world, with 32
percent (almost $30 billion) in foreign direct investment. The US, the third
largest foreign direct investor in Arab countries, accounted for $6.9 billion.
Equally in August, and according to Iranian
press, China’s Special Envoy to Syria submitted to Ali Akbar Velayati, Senior
Foreign Policy Adviser to Ayatollah Khamenei, the plan for Chinese involvement
In March, a small contingent of Chinese
troops was deployed in Syria to train and advise the Syrian army. Yet in Syria,
Chinese priorities seem to have evolved, from initial concerns with stability
and jihadists (mostly from the Uighur minority from Xinjiang) returning home,
to broader geostrategic and economic considerations.
As the prospects of military defeat for the
Assad regime have declined dramatically, speculation about a central Chinese
role in the reconstruction of Syria has grown. The problem for Russia and Iran
is that they now own the Syrian crisis, which is far from being resolved. With
their limited capacity to invest in the Syrian economy, China’s involvement is
a potential life saver — and it comes with the added value that, like Iran and
Russia, the large-scale war crimes committed by the Assad regime seem not to be
a primary concern.
The Chinese willingness, confirmed by China
experts, to play a role in the stabilization of Syria, is certainly not
unrelated to the role China envisions for Iran.
China has long seen Iran as a vehicle to
counter US influence in the Middle East. Then Iran became an essential piece of
China’s Belt and Road Initiative, and the nuclear deal unlocked the remaining
obstacles to this part of the plan. In February last year, in a highly symbolic
event, the first cargo train departing from eastern China arrived in Tehran via
Kazakstan and Turkmenistan, in just under two weeks.
Also after the nuclear deal, China is
allegedly supporting full Iranian membership of the Shanghai Cooperation
Organization, which Iranians have pursued for years. The SCO is considered the
Central Asian equivalent and rival to NATO.
However, as China grows ever more involved
in the Middle East, it is likely to look at the region beyond the perspective
of great power competition with the US. This may come to raise some questions
about how China will be able to find an accommodation with most of Iran’s
regional policies, one the greatest sources of regional instability.
China’s first Arab policy paper, published
last year, starts by praising China’s longstanding ties with Arab countries and
advances various broad initiatives to strengthen these ties. It emphasizes
shared goals such as safeguarding state sovereignty and territorial integrity,
and fighting extremist and terrorism.
The revolutionary policy of Iran since
1979, based on overthrowing neighboring governments, building militias with
transnational loyalties and supporting militant groups (Shiite and Sunni),
contrasts sharply with the basic principles of Chinese foreign policy. The
question is: will China’s Belt and Road Initiative speak louder.