26 Aug. - 1 Sep. 1999
Issue No. 444
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
In praise of rarity
Egypt Region International Economy Opinion Focus Culture Features Profile Travel Living Sports People Time Out Chronicles Cartoons Letters
Sir- Please thank Edward Said for his excellent article The Treason of the Intellectuals (Al-Ahram Weekly, 24-30 June). Like Chomsky, Vidal, or Hitchens, Mr Said is a rarity: a very competent and honest writer unafraid to stand up to the intimidating power of the US military establishment. Please wish him well, and all the best to Al-Ahram as well.
Sir- I visited Sinai several times right after the hand-over from Israel, and Sharm Al-Sheikh left a magical and lasting impression. I returned some 13 years later with my family, and I feel both proud and sad. The pride stems from the very respectable tourist industry in place. The Egyptians providing this seem to know exactly what the average tourist wants. As Egyptians, we enjoyed a perfect stay.
There was also a sense of pride when diving the reefs, although this is when things began to trouble me. Dive masters seemed unanimously in agreement that this local treasure is dwindling. Despite so-called environmental awareness, the reefs are being abused. The perpetrators are not only uninformed tourists but dive masters as well. We witnessed one incident where a dive master was actually standing on a reef showing off for some tourists. Another told me that she tried to report an incident of illegal spear fishing but the bureaucracy demanded indisputable evidence before taking action. The report was ignored. Mooring is still a problem and more sites are required, especially in Ras Mohamed. I am told that although money has been donated by the EU, it is probably in a bank account, with someone living off the interest.
There may be inaccuracies in the above, but there is no smoke without fire. Most of the dive masters are foreigners and very sensitive to the fact that they hold privileged posts. They are reluctant to take this further. There needs to be a balance between the excellent hotel management and facilities, and rigorous environmental protection. This is a matter for the urgent attention of the authorities. Overdevelopment and the gradual assault on our reefs may mark the next decade as the one ushering in the decline of this national treasure. At this rate, there will be nothing to dive for.
Sir- The recent imprisoning of journalists in Egypt demonstrates the need for a change in legislation. I believe that while there should be some penalty for journalists who slander public officials, a prison term is clearly an autocratic measure designed to remove challenging opinions from the public debate.
There is also room for the judiciary to contribute to progressiveness in Egyptian society. The judiciary cannot remain above reproach under the pretext that they are enforcing the law, not enacting it. As any committed citizen believes, the judiciary can make a substantial contribution to social progress and progressive judges can use their leverage to advance the course of true democracy.
Too painful to forget
Sir- As a concerned US citizen residing in Cairo, with various experiences in the Sudan and throughout the Middle East, I felt compelled to write about the tragedy of the bombing of the Al-Shifa pharmaceuticals factory. One year has passed since the 20 August US Tomahawk Cruise missile attack on the $100 million factory in northern Khartoum. While the attack left several dead and countless injured, the loss has had longer-term consequences for the people of Sudan. In just a few minutes, the provider of 90 per cent of the country's most needed medicines was destroyed. US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright justified this attack by citing the need to combat terrorism -- "the war of the future" -- and claimed the factory was capable of producing nerve gas.
After months of waiting, with little fanfare the US government indirectly vindicated Salah Idris (the owner of the factory) and Sudan. While the US government didn't admit its guilt or confess its blunder, on 4 May 1999 it did remove the "freeze" it had placed on Mr Idris's assets. (The US government would have been forced on this day to reply to the factory owner's lawsuits to lift the freeze, but opted out.)
While this retreat shows the US had no evidence to support its claim that the missile attack was a strike against terrorism, it added a whole new meaning to the phrase "crimes against humanity". Outside of America, the US missile attack on Al-Shifa is seen as another instance of Washington's use of international double standards, which has become omnipresent in US foreign policy-making since 1945 (witness the reprehensible attacks on US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam and the Monica Lewinsky scandal). Clearly, Washington would not have accepted a missile attack by foreign powers on the Aldrich Chemical Co. in Milwaukee, because of EMPTA (the key ingredient in producing nerve gas, according to US experts) being found in a suspect soil sample.
From the start, the evidence was weak. Washington was forced to block any form of United Nations investigation and a scant month after the attack, on 21 September 1998, the New York Times reported that top US officials believed the decision to attack Al-Shifa was based on unconvincing evidence. The International Action Centre (IAC) sent a fact-finding group led by former US Attorney-General Ramsey Clark to investigate the incident. The "irrefutable evidence" promised by US National Security Adviser Sandy Berger was indeed irrefutable, since there was no evidence for the IAC group to refute!
The Al-Shifa facility was called "the Pride of Africa" at its opening, which drew much fanfare and was attended by heads of state, foreign ministers and ambassadors. The factory even became a supplier of medicine to Iraq as part of the United Nations "Oil for Food" programme. More importantly, this factory provided affordable medicine for humans and all the locally available veterinary medicine in Sudan.
Sanctions against Sudan make it impossible to import the amounts of medicine required to cover the serious gap caused by the destruction of Al-Shifa. While the US government continues to backtrack from this attack, for the countless people who are suffering and dying from malaria, tuberculosis and other treatable diseases in Sudan, the action taken by Washington on 20 August 1998 still means they cannot get the medicine they need.
Millions must be wondering how the International Court of Justice in The Hague will celebrate this anniversary.
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