25 - 31 July 2002
Issue No. 596
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875||Recommend this page|
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Sir-- The Regional Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in the Arab Republic of Egypt wishes to refer to the articles on refugees in Egypt 'Moments to be free' and 'Living on the edge' (Al- Ahram Weekly, 27 June - 3 July). We sincerely welcome the growing interest of your publication in refugee issues, and would have liked to assist your reporters in covering the complex issues of refugees in Egypt.
Since 1954, UNHCR has been providing protection and support to refugees in Egypt. As such, UNHCR sincerely welcomes the growing interest of the Egyptian media and public in refugee issues. However, the articles published contain some factual inaccuracies which require correction and some allegations against UNHCR which are unacceptable. We note with regret that the reporters did not deem appropriate to contact UNHCR, or the competent Egyptian authorities, to verify some of the information published.
The Arab Republic of Egypt is host to some 70,000 refugees from the occupied Palestinian territories, and some 9,000 refugees of over 24 other nationalities. The figures quoted in the article 'Moments to be free' are unfortunately inaccurate and seem to ignore that Palestinian refugees constitute the majority of refugees in Egypt.
The statement attributed to Professor Harrell- Bond in the article written by Mr Nkrumah 'Living on the edge', is quite offending for our organisation and colleagues. We would like to highlight the fact that the refugee status determination procedure, implemented by UNHCR Cairo, is a procedure based on legal standards. Contrary to Professor Harrell-Bond's statement, this process is not a subjective one, nor is it "the luck of the draw".
The refugee status determination process consists of detailed personal interviews and a range of research, and the asylum seeker has to substantiate his or her refugee claim. Negative decisions taken by UNHCR are subject to review by different officers, other than the ones involved in the first decision. It seems that many believe that their status as refugees includes an inherent right to resettlement in another country. In that respect, we would like to stress that UNHCR is a refugee protection agency. It should be understood that resettlement is not a right based in international law, but is used as a tool of international protection, as a durable solution, and as an instrument of international burden sharing. Access to resettlement is governed by objective criteria. UNHCR Cairo submits approximately 2,500 to 3,000 of the most vulnerable refugees for resettlement every year. Clearly, resettled individuals are not a "few lucky ones" as mentioned in the article.
According to our figures, some 24 per cent of asylum seekers qualified for refugee status since the beginning of this year. Many rejected asylum seekers prefer to stay illegally in Egypt and suffer harsh living conditions, rather than facing the prospects of going back to their home country.
In 'Moments to be free' there is a reference to a group of 17 women, mainly Ethiopians, who were rounded up by Egyptian security forces and are awaiting UNHCR decisions while in custody. According to our files, only five of them have a case being currently examined for refugee status, and UNHCR intervened on their behalf with the relevant authorities.
The allegation made by some Liberian nationals in 'Moments to be free' that UNHCR "systematically rejects applicants with student visas for refugee status", is wholly inaccurate and casts serious doubt on the credibility of those who claim to represent the Liberian community. As stated earlier, decisions for determining refugee status are based on the merits of each case and are irrespective of the conditions of the asylum seeker's entry and/or status in the territory of Egypt.
There were other inaccuracies in the articles, but we shall limit ourselves to these comments.
External Relations Officer
Need for reform
Sir-- I would like to challenge Mohamed El- Sayed Said's piece 'The same mistakes' (Al- Ahram Weekly, 18 - 24 July). As usual, he seems to use backward logic to prove his points and define his sloppy hypothesis. Mr Said claims that Palestinian democracy is not necessary for peace on the West Bank. First he backs up this statement by citing past democratic failures in the Middle East. Do I really need to point out the shortsightedness of doing something like that? If you had a few friends who could never make a good Margarita, does that mean you would never try it because technically it could never be done because of past failures? Of course not.
Secondly, Mr Said decides to mention how the US was never very happy to back other blossoming democracies during the Cold War, for fear that they would jump on the other side. Well, sir, even if that is entirely true, I would say that any country's national security is more important than its foreign policy. I might not necessarily agree with everything President Bush said, but fundamentally he's right, there can be no peace there without real, free democracy in Palestine.
When you have crazy, power-hungry dictators running around like Arafat, holding a peace sign up with one hand and passing money to suicide bombers with another, there's no way to keep order. Unchecked government is generally the worst kind. I want the Palestinian people liberated, but it can't ever happen on Arafat's watch. If there was peace, Arafat has nothing to do. I know some of the unabashedly pro-Arab readers are saying "what about Sharon?" Well, I agree that the borders need to be established and Israel needs to back-off, but does anybody out there really think that Sharon will still be sending his military in Palestinian areas if the suicide bombings stop? Of course not, his citizens wouldn't stand for it and neither would the US.
Let's get Arafat a new job, somewhere in the private sector. Let's liberate Palestine, but first let's get them free democracy. There can be no peace without reform, and the Palestinians have a lot of reforming to do.
A firm stand
Sir-- Does George W Bush want peace in the Middle East? I don't think so. Bush rejects the existence of the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, claiming that the latter is the main obstacle on the road to peace in the region. Bush and his administration call the Palestinian martyrdom attacks terrorism, while to them the savagery of the Israelis is self-defense.
In reality, there is no peace and there will not be one unless we, as Arabs, take a firm position against Israel and its allies, either through an economic boycott or an oil embargo.
Mohamed Ibrahim Fraig
Sir-- The Israeli government has repeatedly held the Palestinian Authority (PA) responsible for failing to stop suicide bombings. They have punished the Palestinians by destroying all PA infrastructure which supposedly failed to combat terror. Not content with this, the Israeli government went on to destroy Palestinian educational and social institutions pushing a desperate people further towards hopelessness.
In order to put an end to the terror campaigns, the Israelis have invaded Palestinians territories, but despite the most advanced weaponry their American subordinates can supply, superior financial capabilities and so-called transparent democratic institutions, they too have failed to curb terror.
So what next Mr Sharon? A new leader for the Palestinians? A good thing possibly, but with what institutions would this leader guarantee his nation's security?
Israeli policy has rarely been fair towards Palestinians, however Mr Sharon has displayed a rare trait amongst Israelis -- stupidity. Or could it be that he has something else in mind?
Hard on humanity
Sir-- I am a Pakistani Muslim, of 'moderate' views. Our passive and not-so-passive complicity in accepting the horrible treatment of the Palestinians, people of Gujrat and Kashmiris -- while our elites play footsie with the Indians, Israelis and Americans -- is a despicable act of cowardice and personal greed. Yet we prattle on about honour and faith.
We, the entire Umma [nation], including the ever so proud Arabs, are or have become a degenerate unreliable people with no sense of honour, or decency. No wonder we are treated with such contempt by the West and the East.
May God have mercy on us, because we surely do not deserve it by human standards.
Fazal Ur Rahman
Sir-- Regarding J Lenihan's letter 'Bombs and fences' (Al-Ahram Weekly, 27 June-3 July), I want to draw his attention and many others to a very important point. This conflict will see no victor.
Mr Lenihan saying that if Israel expels all its Arab population into Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, consequently resulting in the collapse of these countries, is less than wishful thinking. The idea is utterly ridiculous, amateur and prejudiced. But my criticism goes both ways. Those who want to bring Israel down through war, forget the lessons of history, as Mr Lenihan had forgotten that neither side has so far collapsed in this ongoing struggle -- and neither has the US been able to destroy the whole of the Arab and Muslim world.
Rhetoric is a feeble way to vent one's prejudices, and I see a lot of it these days by Americans who are blinded by the over-estimated power of their government. This is not the middle ages anymore, but we seem to be heading there with the plethora of bigotry out there.
Panorama of views
Sir-- I was disappointed to see you publishing such a blatantly racist letter as that of J Lenihan last week. I am sick and tired of seeing the views of mostly Christian right-wing American fundamentalists, given precedence over the voices of tolerance which represent the vast majority of humanity. These letters complicate the relationship between America and the rest of the world -- they are deliberately provocative.
The Internet allows vocal micro-minorities to project their hatred to the world as if they represent far larger constituencies. People such as Mr Lenihan view 'the Arabs' with the same respect that their forefathers had for 'the Jews' -- and we all know where that trail ended.
Mr Lenihan and his ilk don't know anything about the Middle East; they swallow American media coverage hook, line and sinker and believe everything they are told about Israel.
You should think again before publishing letters which intend to offend and which contribute nothing to our understanding of the situation.
Sir-- It is becoming increasingly difficult to read letters on your readers corner from people like Mr Sam Jarfani 'Screaming hate' and Mr J Lenihan 'Fearing the other' (Al-Ahram Weekly, 18 - 24 July). How does one reach past the first paragraph? I wonder if either these two gentlemen noticed the picture of the Palestinian journalist, Imad Abu Zahra (in the same issue on Page 4) who was shot by Israeli troops and left to bleed to death? Did they notice his eyes, could they look into them? One look says more than a thousand of your paragraphs.
What law is it that makes those with guns stronger, yet we are told "Tel Aviv has the rule of law." How many rules and laws have they broken? "Tel Aviv has an unfettered media which supports a lively cultural establishment." So is shooting people nowadays considered a lively cultural news item? Who is slaughtering whom; who inherited the hate of the Nazis? Please go back to your history books and get your facts straight.
If you have gotten past my first paragraph, I strongly advise you not to accept anything less than complete honesty, as Mr Bush put it.
By the way, didn't you know that there are belly-dancers in Tel Aviv also?
Sir-- Like a comeback of the era of the Catholic Inquisition, any public condemnation of the actions of the State of Israel in the United States is considered an act of heresy, a taboo. Public figures who embark, in the name of conscience and justice, in openly questioning the legality or correctness of Israel's policies and actions are risking a social and political lynching.
Only in America is it such a serious "offence" to seriously criticise Israel's actions. Why is pro- Israelism viewed as a prerequisite for American public figures, to be approved by the people and the media as politically and ethically sane? Is turning an eye away from the suffering and humiliation of Palestinians, and blindly embracing and defending Israel, considered as the moral high road for Americans in general? Why do people frown at those trying to understand and explain, truthfully, why terrorists are murdering Israelis? Making matters worse, the American leadership is doing a great job feeding its people a limited version of a tragic, complicated reality. Americans need to wake up and realise what a humanitarian and political disaster this current Congressional and executive leadership is openly supporting in the Middle East region.
If there is any entity that owes apologies to anyone, it is Israel. For many years being the greatest recipient of US foreign aid ($5 billion yearly until recently when it was lowered to $3 billion), they have used American taxpayer money to sustain a military occupation for 35 years, built illegal settlements, ignored international law, waged war on its neighbours, and bought American weapons and bulldozers to use against Palestinian civilians and militants alike. This dogmatic and fanatical support for Israel is as wrong as the global apathy towards the suffering of German Jewry during the Nazi years. It may be this very same sense of collective guilt, generated by the Holocaust, that drive many Americans to believe that Israel and its policies may be the only alternative to ensure the future survival of Jews worldwide. Lobby groups like the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) are very keen on exploiting such emotions and perpetuating the current flux of taxpayer money into Israeli coffers.
It is not correct to blindly support such a corrupted ideology, built over the ashes of a long gone Biblical period, and implemented at the expense of four million people. Israel's actions completely contradict the principles of freedom and democracy from which the United States was born and, supposedly, continues to "represent". By aiding to keep a whole nation under siege for 35 years, with American military and economical resources, it is time for other influential citizens of the United States to wake up and put a stop to this before it is too late.
Besides, it is Israel's job to defend its own tarnished image, not America's. In addition, it is a terrible waste of money for Uncle Sam to support one of the worst catastrophes in modern history. What a shame.
Tyrants and revolutionaries
Sir-- Regarding 'What revolution' (Al-Ahram Weekly, 4 - 10 July). Yassin Serageddin should keep his mouth shut in shame, and not criticise the revolution which gave birth to a new prosperous Egypt.
I was a victim of orders by his brother, Fouad Serageddin in Umm Saber. Everybody who is still alive, knows what Fouad and El-Badrawy Ashour did against the interests of Egypt for the sake of King Farouk and money. The 1952 Revolution is a heroic and holy deed, in contrast with the shame of enslaving your fellow citizens.
Sir-- Regarding the article 'Safeguarding Nasser's legacy' (Al-Ahram Weekly, 18-24 July), I believe Mrs Hoda Abdel-Nasser's effort is needed. I only hope that she has included all the dimensions of her father's rule, not only his achievements.
Many people were adversely affected during his time, so she should look into all aspects, to give a full picture of the truth.
Sir-- Only now are articles beginning to appear in the American press that tell the true logistical realities regarding the conflict in Kashmir. I hope that Americans can finally see through the smoke-screen of nuclear war hyperbole that is spewing forth from New Delhi, as well as the unreasonable demands being issued to Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf from some in Washington.
Observers on all sides who have followed this drama closely can only conclude that Musharraf is a rational man who has fallen into a political conundrum, so full of twists that the best writers in Hollywood could scarcely conceive of it. Almost as if he were a conjured matinée hero, he has met all challenges and come up the victor; therefore it would be horrible for the US to buy into the venomous words of India's Vajpayee who is smarting jealously from the lack of attention from the White House.
Americans must ask themselves, can Pakistan's leaders truly control small bodies of rebel factions on a far-flung border any better than we can control American militias that blow up federal buildings in Oklahoma? India is using these same types of people -- who are branded Muslim extremists in this case -- as an excuse to vilify and destabilise the entire Pakistani government. It is no surprise that the Pakistani people support Mr Musharraf -- what are their choices?
In the political wings are two corrupt dissemblers who would love to get their hands on their country's purse strings again. Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto are an added stress to Pakistan, as they sit back from exiles in Saudi Arabia and London respectively and lob unconstructive criticism further blurring the situation. Americans must stay focused and write to their congressmen to inform them that they support Musharraf and his vision of reform in Pakistan; that they recognise that he is the voice of reason in the region; and that his leadership will benefit his people and, ironically enough, the process of a true stable democracy in the region.
Long Beach, CA
Sir-- I've read most of Injy El-Kashef's restaurant reviews, and I'm very fond of the style in which she transmits to the reader her experience in each place she eats.
The Merryland experience 'Pink flamingoes' (Al-Ahram Weekly, 11 - 17 July) seems to have been an ordeal, especially the lack of ice and the part about the calamari.
Eye on citizens
Sir-- I very much enjoyed Mukul Devichand's article 'British big brother' (Al-Ahram Weekly, 11 - 17 July) about the proposal for all Britons to carry identity cards. It was well written, perceptive and very witty -- especially the final comment by an Italian student in London: "The British are a bit crazy, I think." She is probably right. But speaking as an "ordinary middle-class white Briton" (although a non-resident), I think the main objection most of us would feel to this proposal is quite simple: It is none of their damn business who I am.
A racist measure? Possibly. An "important tool in cracking down on illegal immigration"? Possibly. And of course for the victims -- and perpetrators -- of crimes or accidents, identification is obviously of prime importance.
But there are plenty of other means of identification, and one way or another the police have usually managed this task without too much trouble for the last 50 years or so. No, I think the gut reaction of most of us is simply -- who I am, where I go, and what I am doing, is my business and nobody else's.
Suffer the landlords
Sir-- Does the Egyptian Parliament not see the folly of its refusal to update laws regarding old building rental contracts? When an owner of a building which houses 13 flats receives less than LE70 a month in rent because of antiquated laws, there is something terribly wrong. It's time to wake up and start making some reasonable and sensible changes that are fair to all.
There are over two million building owners, which means two million families are not able to collect a fair and reasonable rent for their property. Maybe it's time for an Association of Landowners to assemble if parliament will not update laws fairly.
The new laws enacted in 1996 addressed part of this problem and allowed owners to draw new contracts which allow for changes, but old contracts, which are many, have not been dealt with fairly for property owners.
How can building owners -- many of whom are from very old respected families -- be expected to keep property maintained at high standards, when they can't collect a reasonable rent to handle this?
Letter from the Editor
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