|Al-Ahram Weekly Online
17 - 23 January 2002
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875||Current issue | Previous issue | Site map|
Drawing by Ossama Qasim
Sir- Yet another nation crumbles and its citizens are in the streets protesting because of "structural adjustment." I am talking about Argentina (Al- Ahram Weekly, 10-16 January), but I could be talking about most of the developing countries in the same vein. The predator is that Bermuda Triangle -- IMF, World Bank, WTO -- which seems to be swallowing nations and leaving behind emaciated economies and disgruntled citizens.
But are we learning anything? No; the predator, with considerable aid from the US, uses the same weapon every time (opens the economy, cuts public spending, pressures the government to turn a blind eye) and all the developing countries are becoming tame victims that don't even put up a fight. The time has come for the world to see through this charade of free trade and kick out the dangerous disease called the IMF.
Communism is dead
Sir- Re Mohamed Sid-Ahmed's "Terrorism and communism" (Al-Ahram Weekly, 3-9 January): communism and capitalism do not coexist in China. Capitalism is replacing communism at all levels of society. The only part of communism which is not being replaced is the rhetoric and the Communist Party. The rhetoric is kept simply to keep the party in power. How long this hypocrisy can exist, we will just have to wait and see.
The main reasons given to explain the party's popularity are stability and increasing wealth. The days of communist China are over; it is the future of the Communist Party that is the question. Increasingly the party has replaced communism with nationalism both in actions and in rhetoric. Communism in China is dead.
San Diego, California
Sir- I have read "Terrorism and communism" by Mr Sid-Ahmed. I am afraid he has completely misunderstood China through the 1950s, '60s and '70s (socialism), and in the 1980s and '90s (comprador capitalism).
Let's look at a simple fact, one that currently affects 1.2 billion Chinese peasants: at the time when Mao died (1976), China's foreign debt was 0. Domestic debt was 0. Now, China's foreign debt is $480 billion (four times that of Argentina), with 30-40 per cent annual interest (just like the loans for the poor countries in Latin America). Domestic debts are at least 500 billion yuan.
The financial deficit is estimated at 400 billion yuan.
The import tariff on agricultural products is two per cent.
There are over one billion Chinese peasants living in absolute poverty.
US grain imports in 1999 were estimated at 40 million tons.
The state has hardly enough grain stored to last a year.
In the cities, 20 per cent of the population own 80 per cent of bank savings.
In summer 2000, locusts devastated more than a dozen provinces. And the cause of it was that over 10 years no irrigation works had been done. The government subsidies, if any, went into the pockets of corrupt local officials.
In July 2000, the central government polled over 120,000 Chinese. They felt that China's problems were as follows: 1) corruption; 2) unemployment; 3) a bankrupt and corrupt judiciary. Eighty-five per cent of the respondents openly expressed dissatisfaction with the current government and the capitalist system.
The last straw: by entering the WTO, the Chinese government has publicly recognised Taiwan as an independent sovereign state, which is a direct violation of the Constitution.
In December 2001 and in the first weeks of 2002, 40-50 bombs have exploded throughout China. The anger among the people is now glowing white.
Sir, you don't seem to know any of these facts, but you have adopted the habit of so many scholars in the West: just believe what the Davos guys say, what the mass media in the West say, and then talk irresponsibly about a country with 1.3 billion people.
Sorry, I have to point it out frankly.
More than oil
Sir- To warn "OPEC cuts crude supply" sends a mixed message to the users of gasoline, oil, and other fuels. The OPEC members are only using supply and demand economic formulas to raise the cost of fuel. On the other hand, they only supply 40 per cent of the world's crude oil production. The other 60 per cent of oil production and the Alaskan pipeline, not to mention Russian export needs, will stop this smoke-screen effect by OPEC.
In time, the oil game will be called "The party's over." These oil tycoons have enjoyed a good lifestyle and suppressed average citizens in their respective countries. If there were no large amounts of oil, where would these men be? Other exports, food production, industry and education, should be the key interest of these oil tycoons, to keep the money coming in after oil prices drop.
The old American adage "don't count your chickens before they're hatched" is appropriate here. Have more than crude oil production as an export. With water, sand can become farmland, growing wheat, rice, and a multitude of healthy vegetables for export and domestic use. The threat of oil prices rising is not an issue, but who will continue to survive at OPEC when oil is tapped in Russia and other countries? The Arab world is not the only place that has crude oil.
San Diego, California
Texas, not Israel
Sir- I must take exception to "John Smith" of Florida, US (Al-Ahram Weekly, Letters to the editor, 10-16 January). He accused the top executives of Houston-based Enron of stealing the pensions of the employees and escaping to Israel.
Well, I live in Houston, Texas. And Mr Kenneth Lay and his cohorts are right here.
Arab people wonder why their "press" is not taken seriously in the West. I have an answer: It is directly the result of the Arab press publishing such vile baloney as the accusations of Mr "John Smith of Florida."
Shame on you, Al-Ahram.
Sir- I am writing in response to Mr Shukrallah's column in which he tells an "Urban legend" (Al- Ahram Weekly, 10-16 January). Specifically, the premise of his urban legend is that "... the majority of Americans are... utterly clueless with regard to the devastation their ever-growing empire has wrought upon the world during its 100-year history -- clueless, indeed, with regard to its very existence."
Count me among that majority. That the US has long been a world economic power is clear to all Americans; that it is currently the dominant military power is similarly clear to all Americans. What we are "clueless" about is Mr Shukrallah's naked assertion that the effect of US economic success has "devastated" the world. Quite the opposite is true. US economic success has been of immense economic benefit to other nations. This is obvious in the West, but it is equally true of Japan and the Middle East. US consumption and technology have produced a large portion of the economic growth in the Middle East. The nice thing about economics is that it is not zero sum -- typically, both parties to a voluntary exchange are made better off.
Similarly, the US has clearly not used its military power to "devastate" the world. Certainly, Nazi Germany and Japan used their military power in that manner, and US economic and military strength was critical to ending those devastating war machines. The US came out of World War II uniquely dominant, with a monopoly on atomic weapons and it was the only major power whose homeland had not been devastated. The US did not use this "hegemony" to launch wars of conquest and did not seize colonial prizes as fruits of the war. The US did not begin the conflict with Iraq. It responded to an invasion. The US did not begin the conflict with Bin Laden and Mullah Omar. It responded to a terrorist atrocity and the public promise of more to come. Mr Shukrallah is a purveyor of urban myths.
What the US has done, in addition to spurring economic growth throughout the world -- which has greatly reduced world poverty -- is spread the developments of our (and others') creative geniuses. This is most apparent in terms of advances in health, agriculture and communications technology. But it is also true of our much reviled popular entertainment and food industries. In sum, US power has largely been used in ways that advanced not only US interests, but the interests of the world. The US has served as an inspiration for many peoples in their efforts to build local democratic institutions and the rule of law. Oh, and lest we forget, the US has also acted frequently to try to build peace, including the one between Egypt and Israel, which has reduced the devastation of the world.
So, perhaps we're not quite so clueless. Perhaps the conclusory, visceral anti-Americanism of Mr Shukrallah, unaccompanied by fact, is a form of bigotry.
William K Black
University of Texas at Austin
Sir- Thank you very much for Khaled Dawoud's article on the last Bin Laden video tape (Al-Ahram Weekly, 3-9 January). I have no memory of seeing the video, either because my memory is poor or because of censorship. I do not trust the Pentagon or the Bush administration to give truthful information.
Salt Lake City, Utah
Logic and justice
Sir- Re Edward Said's "Emerging alternatives in Palestine" (Al-Ahram Weekly, 10-16 January): I support Mr Said with all my heart. I am an Egyptian engineer and have been working for 10 years in Africa. His ideas deal with logic and justice at the same time, which makes them credible.
Mr Said, please continue your efforts and do not get frustrated, because our nation needs people like you. I assure you that the silent educated majority in all the Arab world and I dare say in many other countries share your views.
Said for president
Sir- I read all of Edward Said's articles. He has given the Middle East a respectable image. I wait patiently to read his articles every week when the on-line edition of the Weekly is updated; and some of my friends have his books. "Emerging alternatives in Palestine (Al-Ahram Weekly, 10-16 January) is simply great. The hardest will be to implement it.
Palestine needs a dignified, educated, respected representative to be its president. No grovelling or wailing, a person who would be respected and supported in the East as well as in the West.
How to help?
Sir- How does one go about helping the Palestinians? This is not a theoretical question. I could fly over and stand as a silent witness and supporter -- would this be the best way? I collect notes, speak often, and follow the information, but I do not know what else to do, and as I read the accounts of the degradation of the people and the pure terror of an out of control army, my heart is in a sickness.
I do not know how you are not consumed with hatred, and I think the more highly of you for it, but to get back to my question, what is the best help I can give? I was a photo journalist years ago, and can still take a decent black and white. If it would help, I could go over for several weeks. I am a single parent, but my son is 16, and understands that this is something we can not sit back and ignore. I have given it some thought. It is my duty to do something, and just e-mailing my government here seems almost futile.
South African parallels
Sir- I am a South African. I have been reading your on-line publication with great interest.
What makes the Palestinian/Israeli conflict different to the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa? One of the essential elements was the degree of international support that we had. The ANC, under the leadership of Nelson Mandela, ran an excellent political campaign overseas. International pressure became so great that the Apartheid government was forced to negotiate. What made the difference was that the ANC was not negotiating from a position of weakness.
Whenever the Palestinian people negotiate, it is from a position of weakness. In that sense, the negotiations are a farce. With the greatest of respect to those involved in negotiations, why do you keep on negotiating?
I am not advocating a military struggle at all (although that did play a big role in our success). Violence from either side can do nothing but aggravate an already painful situation. I think there should be greater emphasis on a non-military international campaign. Once that is solidly in place, then negotiate. Otherwise Palestinians will be negotiating with people who have no interest in what they have to say.
In addition to being a South African, I am also a Muslim. In South Africa, we have a small but significant part of our Jewish community who are standing with the Palestinians in their struggle against oppression. Many South African Muslims, myself included, are proud to stand side by side with these Jewish people as well as the Palestinians. Am I being naive to hope for such a union in the Middle East?
Sometimes we need to break through the walls of nationalism, culture and even religion and see each other as human beings of one race, even if that happens to be distasteful for some of us.
It is a battle worth fighting. It is a battle for the survival of the human race. The alternative is a global escalation of violence that could kill us all. And then there will be no more people to negotiate anything with. All that will remain is the empty land soaking up our blood. I cannot imagine any sane person wanting that.
Sir- I must confess I always thought that it was just one Egyptian ministry that specialised in non- stop hare-brained schemes. Sadly, I have been proven wrong!
It now seems that another ministry -- education -- is competing for that great honour! Words fail me to express the horror I felt when I read that the current education minister intends to cancel all examinations on the grounds that "other countries were doing this" and to safeguard pupils who fell ill on the day of the exam!
Worse, he plans to have school pupils and their teachers devote so many hours per week to "manufacturing products" at school to be sold to the public "in order to help with school finances."
I hope you will forgive me for thinking that our learned education minister has been standing in the hot sun for too long. Or perhaps he has been listening to hearsay from people passing by.
Examinations have been with us from time immemorial and, in my humble opinion, will remain with us till the end of time. No Western European country has abolished exams nor will they ever do so. In England, on top of having to pass the school certificate exams, some universities, like Oxford and Cambridge, set their own entrance exams as well, and they are quite difficult!
The question of pupils falling sick on the day of the exam is too absurd and childish to get an answer from me.
Even more absurd is the amazing and totally unrealistic notion that schoolchildren and their teachers "manufacture products" that can be sold to the public. What can a 13-year-old boy produce? A missile? A shoe? Pink underwear? Or perhaps toilet paper? And what can, say, a geography teacher produce? A geography map? Well, he cannot!
I recall that at the school I went to, we had a carpentry class. After many months of making a mess of everything I produced a hexagonal wood mat on which something hot was placed. I still have it and would not dream of "selling" it. Who would want to buy such a badly made item?
At the end of the day, I wonder if I could, on behalf of the Egyptian intelligentsia, ask our learned minister to review his "revolutionary" plans or tender his resignation.
Sir- In Egypt, examinations occur twice a year and continue for four weeks each time, not including the intense studying period. During this time, Egyptian commerce and entertainment come to a virtual standstill. Families no longer leave their homes. It is amazing that this has gone on for so long without anybody noticing it.
The system of examinations should be modified so that it does not have such a negative impact on our economy.
Dr Abdelsalam Ragab
Sir- Many Egyptian physicians, and I am one of them, have lived and practiced in the United States for many years. We would like to volunteer our services and expertise in various areas of medicine for the areas of need in Egypt. It is the least we can do for our mother country.
Can you help us by publishing this letter? Maybe an official from the Ministry of Health or another health organisation will be interested in the offer.
Dr Fikry Boulos Salib
Mother and child
Sir- Re "Their mother's country" (Al-Ahram Weekly, 10-16 January): This is a very interesting article dealing with the nationality of children of Egyptian mothers. If and when the law is changed, will it apply to Egyptian women living overseas?
Big Pine Key, Florida
Sir- We faxed the following letter to Israeli Foreign Minister Peres, Defence Minister Ben- Eliazer, Uzi Landau, minister for internal security, and Nissim Dahan, health minister.
I write on behalf of the members, branches and sections of the Freedom Socialist Party to protest in the strongest possible terms Israeli government harassment of Dr Mustafa Barghouthi and the IDF's sudden and brutal rearrest and mistreatment of him and others at the checkpoint
between Ramallah and Jerusalem on 2 January.
We believe that Dr Barghouthi -- and every Palestinian -- should have the right to travel freely anywhere within Israel and all parts of Jerusalem, as well as the occupied territories. We also believe that Dr Barghouthi's humanitarian work is sorely needed and he should be able to resume without fear of further violent Israeli retaliation and repression.
Dr Barghouthi must be freed immediately and apologies and restitution must be made to him and the members of the European Parliament and others attacked by your soldiers on 2 January. All Israeli checkpoints should be dismantled, and every sort of restriction on travel by Palestinians should be lifted immediately.
In paraphrase of Dr Martin Luther King, whose birthday we celebrate next week, Israelis can never attain security as long as their government denies the same to Palestinians.
Freedom Socialist Party National Office
End the empire
Sir- Hani Shukrallah's "Urban legends" (Al- Ahram Weekly, 10-16 January) was amusing and insightful. It is true that most Americans haven't a clue about our impact worldwide. Most Americans probably do not want their country to be the head of a worldwide empire -- I sure don't.
Sir- As an American born and raised in the United States, I must extend my sincerest compliments on the fabulous job you are doing in putting together this wonderful newspaper. I have been in Egypt on four different occasions, and am very familiar with the culture and people of Egypt. You do a fantastic job in covering all the issues of importance while at the same time writing them in an informative and professional manner. I look forward to reading every issue. I have told all my friends in Egypt what a great newspaper you run, and they all agree. Thank you for providing such an excellent newspaper with ties to the Middle East online. I wish you continued success.
Sir- I hope you will please forward this note to Edward Said. I have followed events in Palestine for some time now, and I would like to say that what I am reading from your opinion pieces, in this source and others, is an encouraging voice in an otherwise depressing and hopeless scenario. As a tax-paying American I am disturbed by what my tax dollars are being applied to with regards to Israeli foreign aid.
Perhaps it will make you feel a bit better to know that whenever I talk about this topic to friends and associates they are equally perplexed. The United States has long declared its love of freedom and democracy, yet those principles are not applied to the Palestinian people in their occupation, and I must fear my own government even for submitting this letter to an editorial.
These are dark times, but I see a light in rational, non-violent discourse and the application of international law.
Your work is important, as it acts to educate and enlighten, and I feel relieved whenever I encounter it.
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