Welcome to the Middle East Today

The Middle East has traditionally been important for the world economy. The Middle East situation today has an impact on all aspects of life in America and much of the world.

Only by understanding the motivations of the various factions in the Middle East can we hope to understand how to promote peace and national security for Middle Eastern nations, Europe, and the United States.

Feb 24, 2010

The Arab World Food Sufficiency

During their annual meeting in 2009 in Doha, Arab leaders discussed the problem of food sufficiency in the Arab world. Arab countries are not food sufficient. They rely on imports to meet their needs. The leaders called for a meeting of experts the following year to formulate a strategy for agricultural development in Africa. They did.

Ministers of Agriculture, Arab League Representatives, and member of the African Union met in Sharm el Sheikh on February 15, 2010. The participants agreed to form a technical committee, which will develop a policy for agricultural development in Africa. They also recommended the creation of a consortium whose members will be recruited from Arab financial institutions, African development banks and some Arab investors to raise $50 billion to be invested over 15 years for the proposed project. The project will be presented to Arab leaders at their upcoming meeting in Libya in the Sprint of 2010.

The suggested project is very important and should be supported by every Arab leader for the following reasons:

First, Arab countries rely on food import to meet their basic needs. They spend around $30 billion on food import every year. This project should also be viewed in light of the population growth. Demographers anticipate that Arab population will double or exceeds 650 million people by the year 2030.

Second, the global weather change and the increasing temperature have already impacted the Arab world. There are less rainfall and longer draught period. Since only1/3 of Arab land is suitable for cultivation and depend on rainfall, the global weather change will in turn have a negative impact on food production.

It should be of interest here to stress the fact that nearly all-Arab countries are classified as water poverty-stricken. With less rainfall in the region and an increase in temperature, the possibility of more desertification is expected in the region.

The proposed $50 billion to be invested in agricultural development should be doubled. Arab oil producing countries, which have invested more than $1.3 trillion in Western economies and lost nearly $300.000 billion of their investment during the economic melt down (2008-09), could easily raise the funds for the proposed project.
Food sufficiency for the Arab world is a policy that needs to be implemented in order to maintain political and social stability in the region.
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Feb 20, 2010

Population Growth in Egypt

In 2009 the population in Egypt exceeded 83 million people, and it is expected to reach 100 million people by the year 2025.

In a speech delivered at the American University of Cairo (al ahram, 2/15), Prime Minister Natheef noted that the population growth in Egypt is creating major obstacles to the economic growth and human development of the country. He, furthermore, said that due to Egypt limited natural resources, the government has faced difficulties in improving the quality of higher education, scientific research and innovation.

The recent UNICEF Report reflects the negative consequences of Egypt population growth (al ahram, 2/17). It points out that 39% of Egypt population consist of children under the age of 15. Out of which 5 million children are living in unhealthy shelters lacking fresh water or sewage facilities, and 1.6 million under the age of 5 are malnourished.

Population growth in Egypt has always been a problem. At the time of the 1952 revolution, the population in Egypt was ¼ of what it is now. During the past six decades, presidents Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar el Sadat and Hosny Mubarak, have all stressed the dangers of such growth and the negative consequences it will inflict on the country, economically, socially and politically. For six decades the government stressed family planning and birth control without great success.

There are major factors that contribute to such growth:
- High rate of illiteracy especially among women in rural areas
- Early marriages of young girls sometimes before they reach the legal age of 17
- Ignorance of religious leaders who oppose government policy, especially in rural areas. The official stand of Al Azhar supports family planning and birth control

From a demographic point of view, if Egyptian families limit their birth to two children, it will take 50 years for Egypt to reach zero population growth. This means that the birth rates would balance the death rate.

It is primordial for the Egyptian government to seriously examine and re-assess its present defunct family planning policy

Feb 17, 2010

A Point of View on the Neo-Cons

In an article in Foreign Policy (2/2010), Professor Steven Walt at Harvard University noted that the neo-cons have not learned a lesson from their previous mistake, which was to advocate the invasion of Iraq.

Nowadays, the neo-cons are using the same strategy to encourage the US to bomb Iran in order to stop its nuclear program.

Britt Stevens, a neo-con, advocates the bombing of Iran. He maintains that the US economic embargo against Iran will not succeed in stopping Iran’s nuclear program. And if Iran succeeds in developing its nuclear program, other countries in the Middle East will follow the same path.

In my opinion the neo-cons should apply pressure on Israel to give up its nuclear weapons for the sake of peace in the region. According to a CIA report, Israel possesses between 200 to 300 nuclear heads. However, the chances for such action are nil. The neo-cons are instruments in the hands of the Israelis and Zionist supporters in the US. To them, Israel’s interest is above the interest of others countries, even above the US interest.

For the sake of argument I would like to bring up a point. Let us suppose Iran succeeds in developing nuclear weapons. What will it do with it?
On the other hand it certainly would neutralize the Israeli Nuclear power in the region.

Feb 11, 2010

Comment on Thomas Friedman's Article

Thomas Friedman's op-ed in the NYT (1/10/2010) was interesting and I recommend it for readers of this post.

I totally agree with Friedman's idea that "the building of Yemen's secular educational system is a must."

The high unemployment among college graduates and poverty are also critical issues that need to be dealt with.

In previous posts, I have discussed Yemen's poverty rate, unemployment, civil war, and the absence of democracy. Those are vital factors that encourage some young educated to join Al Qaeda.

Furthermore, the Wahabi fundamentalists have played an important role in the spread of radical Islam with the help of Western powers to combat communism during the cold war.

It should also be mentioned here that the Afghan's war (1970s-1980s) played an influential role in promoting radical Islam.More than 12 thousands young Muslims were recruited by the CIA to fight Russian forces. The Jihadists involved in the fighting were never rehabilitated. They were unemployed and viewed the West as imperial colonialist power protecting corrupt Arab regimes.

Creating employment opportunities in Yemen as well as in other parts of the Arab world might stop the success of Al Qaeda in recruiting young men. Hence, the West needs to invest in Yemen in order to create jobs rather than sending military hardware.

Is There an End to Terrorism?

In an interview’ with Al Jazeera (1/30/2010), the Turkish foreign minister Ahmad Ouglow stated that even if an understanding were established between the Taliban and the Afghan government, the Al Qaeda will still pursue its activities worldwide. He, furthermore, said that basic source and cause of terrorism is due to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Unless the conflict is settled, the threat of terrorism will continue.

The British Daily Telegraph noted that the Turkish foreign minister’s statement is of utmost importance and should be taken into consideration. Turkey is a member of NATO and is also an important Islamic country; hence it plays an important international role and can mediate between the conflicting parties.

I have also stated in previous posts that unless the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is settled, the threat of terrorism will continue.

Since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, its policy has always been based on expansion, ethnic cleansing, and the suppression of Palestinians.

Unfortunately, American foreign policy has always supported Israel’s policy. When President George W. Bush visited Israel he said that the Arabs should recognize the accomplished fact on the ground in the occupied West Bank. President Bush’s statement was in total contradiction of all UN Resolutions.

Because of US total support of Israel, it has consistently ignored worldwide public opinion and international law.

Unfortunately, the threat of terrorism will continue unless American politicians become sincerely aware of the danger this conflict has created and will continue to create. An even-handed policy toward the Israelis and Palestinians should be applied.

Feb 6, 2010

United Nations Report on Gaza

The United Nation Health Organization has issued a report about the deterioration of the health conditions of Palestinians in Gaza due to the shortage of medical equipments and drugs.

More than 1100 patients apply each month to enter Israel through the Hanoun border gate for health treatment, and more than 1/5 of them are turned down.

It has been reported that 27 Palestinian patients have died during 2009 while waiting to exit Gaza for medical treatment.

The Report also stated that the embargo imposed by Israel led to the severance of health sectors in Gaza with health outlets.

Furthermore, the UN Report has warned that the economic sector has deteriorated badly in Gaza since the Israeli invasion. Unemployment has reached 41.5% and poverty 70%.

In addition to the above, fresh water is also scarce, and what is available is badly contaminated.

The Gaza disastrous situation is attributed to the invasion and embargo imposed by Israel with the US government’s blessing.

It is unfortunate that the Egyptian government is cooperating with the policy of embargo imposed by Israel and the US.

Recently, the Egyptian government began the building of an underground eighteen feet deep steel wall. It took this action to prevent the Palestinians from digging underground tunnels. The tunnels were used to smuggle goods and arms from the Egyptian
side into Gaza. The Palestinians denied this.

Several Egyptian private business companies are participating in the building of the wall, such as the Egyptian Steel and Iron Industry, and the Arab Contractors.

In order to make large profits, those companies have selfishly disregarded Egypt long-range national interest.

The Israeli Human Right B’Tselem joined six other Middle Eastern peace and human right organizations signied a letter sent to president Obama, urging him to demand the lifting of the embargo in order to relieve the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza.

Let us hope that President Obama takes a firm stand and respond positively to lift this shameful IRON CAGE imposed on Gaza.

Feb 4, 2010

The Gaza Iron Cage

Recently a parliamentary delegates from the European Common Market visited Gaza passing through the Egyptian borders.

The objective of the mission was to examine and assess the degree of destruction caused by the Israeli invasion and the impact of the economic embargo imposed on 1.5 million Palestinians four years ago.

The delegates spend few days in Gaza talking to civilians as well as public officials. They have also visited different areas in Gaza and saw the range of destruction caused by the Israeli bombing. Upon their return to Britain, two British members of the delegation held a press conference in London. At the conference they both condemned the Israeli government for the war crimes it has committed against the Palestinians in Gaza. They recommended that the responsible Israeli politicians should be brought in front of the International Court of Justice and be tried for war crimes.

The two delegates have also called on the British government to let the law take its course, and not give Israeli politicians a diplomatic immunity while on British soil. Furthermore, they have also called for the lifting of the economic embargo imposed on the 1.5 million people of Gaza.

THE IRON CAGE IMPOSED BY ISRAEL ON GAZA IS A CRIMINAL ACT AND SHOULD BE LIFTED

Feb 2, 2010

The Nagi Hammadi Religious Divide

Recently, the American Congressional Committee on Religious Freedom was in Egypt to investigate the Nagi Hammadi shooting. Seven Copts were shot as they walked out of their church on their Christmas Eve, January 7.

Egypt has recently experienced clashes between Muslims and Copts. The Copts constitute between 10 and 11% of the 80 million Egyptians.

The government’s response to such conflicts has always been that it was due to personal disputes, but it never maintained that the flare up is due to religious divide.

As an anthropologist who has done extensive research in Egypt since the 1960s, and who has frequently visited the country since then, I noticed that religious conflict between the Coptic minority and the Muslim majority was not significant, especially during the 1960s. However, the picture began to change gradually after the death of Gamal Abdel Nasser and at the beginning of the Sadat’s regime.

Intellectuals, secular political party members, and supporters of Nasser’s regime criticized Sadat’s policy in general. He subsequently turned to the right and sought the support of the Muslim Brotherhood and other religious groups. He lifted the pressure imposed on those groups by the previous regime. A few years later, that same group assassinated him. Since the assassination of Sadat, religious conflict has increased in Egypt.

A second reason for the religious conflict between Copts and Muslims in Egypt is due to the influence the Saudi Wahabi religious group had on Egyptians working in Saudi Arabia. Some of them became fanatic Muslims and upon their return to Egypt they imposed their belief on other Muslim Egyptians.
The financial assistant of the Saudi government to Egypt has also played a primordial role in promoting the Wahabi belief among the poverty stricken people in the land. According to the UN Report, 45% of the population in Egypt is living below the poverty line. Unemployment is 15% and people compete to find a job. This creates frictions between the minority and the majority of the people and even between the members of the same faith, Muslims.

Such religious conflicts are universal and prevail whenever ignorance, illiteracy and poverty are rampant.
Moreover, the educational system in Egypt is also at fault. The curricula lack information about citizenship and honest historical presentation of minorities.

Some religious leaders, on both sides, are to blame due to their ignorance and lack of true understanding or interpretation of religion.

The government in Egypt has not yet removed the laws that discriminate against Copts. For instance, if Muslims have the right to build mosques, Copts should have the same privilege and allowed to build churches.

Foreign interference plays a significant role in creating religious conflicts. Such disturbances in Egypt can be used as a pretext for interference in the internal affairs of the country. Indeed the religious conflict in Egypt has been manipulated by a small group of Egyptian American Copts aided by some Israelis and by some Zionist American groups. They have recently been active and have influenced the American Congress to send a committee to investigate the recent shooting in Nagi Hammadi.

Pope Shenoudah of Egypt, a nationalist and wise man, has refused to meet with the Committee members and said, “What happened in Nagi Hammadi is an internal matter and should be considered as such.”
A statement such as the one issued by the Pope might ease some of the conflicts between Copts and Muslims. Now it remains to be seen if the Egyptian government stops acting in a cavalier manner when it comes to religious conflict, and take a firm stand to resolve such conflict.