Sir-- I have usually found Dr Hassan Abu Taleb to be a thoughtful and careful analyst, so it was with some dismay that I read his column on US-Egyptian relations 'Minor tension or major crisis?' (Al- Ahram Weekly, 28 November-4 December). Dr Abu Taleb offers several opinions with which we disagree, and makes one assertion, which is, regrettably, simply incorrect.
Let me begin with Dr Abu Taleb's belief that "a major crisis in Egyptian-US relations is brewing". The US administration firmly believes that our bilateral relations are very broad and strong. While we recognise there have been a few issues creating some friction, Egypt and the United States remain strategic partners and friends who agree far more than disagree. For example, our two countries have worked closely together since September 2001 in the campaign against terror, and we are fully satisfied with Egypt's co-operation. We value greatly Egypt's role in pushing for an end to violence and resumption of negotiations in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. We also enjoy a large economic and trade relationship recently given renewed strength by the formation of the US- Egyptian Business Council, which will hold meetings in Egypt next month, and the recent visits of our respective trade ministers to each other's countries. Like any friends, we will sometimes have differences of opinion, but we discuss these in a spirit of mutual respect.
Dr Abu Taleb also wrote, referring to the controversy over the Horseman Without a Horse television series, that the US is guilty of "glaring inconsistency" in advocating public freedoms while protesting the airing of the series. The issue in this controversy, as many people seem to overlook, was the decision to broadcast the programme on state-owned and run television, thereby giving it an official imprimatur. As now has been confirmed by three weeks of episodes, the series deals, in part, with the search for and contents of the well-known forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, an odious book used by the Nazis and others to promote hatred of Jews as a people. This was not a question of artistic freedom, but rather of the responsibility of any government to distance itself as much as possible from artistic expression encouraging hatred of any group of people.
Finally, Dr Abu Taleb unfortunately tells a tale of Azhari sheikhs [clerics] being interviewed for visas at the US Embassy that has little basis in fact. Had Dr Abu Taleb called us to verify his information, he would have found out that first, qualified Egyptian employees act as interpreters for all interviews of visa applicants, so sarcastic aspersions on the linguistic abilities of American consular employees are irrelevant. Second, that all applicants, under long- standing US law, must demonstrate convincing evidence that they are who they say they are, and that they are travelling to the US for their stated purpose. For example, a student must show he is actually enrolled in the university he says he is enrolled in and has the means to pay for his studies in the US, or a businessman attending a conference must show some evidence he is actually in the business he says he is in and has been invited to a particular conference. This may involve the consular official's asking the businessman to describe some aspect of his business. In the same way, a sheikh may be asked to establish he is a bonna fide traveller. This has taken place in the past, and is absolutely not a "new visa restriction on Muslim preachers and Qur'an reciters". Nearly 30 Muslim preachers have been given visas this year to preach in the United States, and not one complained to us about the interview process. We have always welcomed Egyptian [clerics] in the United States during Ramadan, and we will continue to do so. We explain to all concerned our visa procedures. Of course, it is up to any individual to decide whether to apply after becoming familiar with those procedures.
The administration of President Bush is not "neo- imperialist", as Dr Abu Taleb claims several times, nor do we seek to "re-draw the map of the Middle East right down to the political, educational and religious systems of Egypt". We are, on the contrary, exerting great effort to bring about a halt to the violence in the region, promote regional stability and economic development, and help Egypt and others address the serious issues cited in the Arab League and UN's Arab Human Development Report. On these crucial matters, the governments of Egypt and the United States largely agree.
Embassy of the USA
Sir-- It seems to me that Salama A Salama's editorial 'Bogeyman in hiding' (Al-Ahram Weekly, 28 November - 4 December) has the ring of a sneer in it.
I believe it was Jesus, son of Joseph and Mary, who said, "Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone." Maybe you should remind the writer of that.
Fools for leaders
Sir-- In 'Bogeyman in hiding' (Al-Ahram Weekly, 28 November - 4 December), Mr Salama shows an excellent appreciation of the abuse now rampant -- in the USA, and elsewhere -- in the so called democracies (including here in Australia). Perhaps we should ask you to run this country instead of the "bunch of clowns" we currently have as politicians and power-brokers in our government.
As has been said before, the only thing needed for the triumph of evil is for men (and women) of good faith (not so-called religious faith) to do nothing. This is where fools like Osama Bin Laden and his gangs of criminals, have driven these short-sighted politicians in their (abortive) attempts to suppress "terrorists".
Do no evil
Sir-- I am an American and Americans are "ex pluribus Unum" -- one from many. We have a different way of life here. We have freedom of religion and the press and many others won through hard work and perseverance.
Islam is erring by backing jihad. You may remember Dr Martin Luther King. His non-violent philosophy and struggle helped, not hurt his people. Any grievances, no matter how just they are, can be overcome and settled without resorting to terror. It is hard to believe that Bin Laden is interested only in establishing "Islamic states" wherever the "apostates" exist. He is merely making a business out of terror at the expense of other people and enriching himself and his groups. Were he sincere, he would picket and demonstrate peacefully like Dr King did. And in this country, that's how we get a lot of our differences settled.
It is my prediction that America and its allies will eventually have to move into Saudi Arabia "to protect our mutual vested interests" there. This will be a dark day for Islam and a shameful one, but there will probably be no other choice. The Saudi government is being sued by the families of the 11 September victims and Bin Laden wants to take control of that country. We will protect you. Whether Bin Laden is dead or alive is not the issue. The issue is, what good does it do to foment terror for no good reason, except under the guise of religious motives? And what will the remedy be?
Let us pray that the three main monotheistic religions that all have roots in the Middle East come together in mind and spirit. Worship as you see fit, but don't use it as an excuse to do evil.
Sir-- Could Mr Salama A Salama be any more vague in his accusations? His editorial 'Bogeyman in hiding' (Al-Ahram Weekly, 28 November - 4 December), full of "what ifs", innuendo and insinuations is a shining example of his problem with the United States government.
We will prevail
Sir-- This is the first time that I read your newspaper, and I must say that as an American Christian (not neo-conservative), I am appalled at the anti- Semitic spin on everything. I want to tell you that we are not Europe, and that here in America we support our president and all democracies. We watched the 9/11 attacks and as Americans we identify with the Israelis. The article 'What really happened' (Al-Ahram Weekly, 28 November - 4 December) by Mr Cook did not refer to the recorded phone call to the IDF, where Mr Hook was begging for help to stop the Palestinian gunmen from entering the compound.
The vast majority of the non-Jewish American people support Israel and see the Europeans as irrelevant, since they would rather negotiate with terrorists than end them. As always, good shall win and we will prevail.
New York City, NY
Americans against war
Sir-- The efforts of Americans to prevent a war with Iraq, as stated in 'Kicking and screaming' (Al-Ahram Weekly, 28 November - 4 December) will continue. Even those who are Republican and particularly in the military, are trying to distance themselves from the Bush administration, which -- as you know -- was not elected, and represents a minority of fundamentalist Christians and oil companies.
Fanatics come from every country and no one is safe from their poison. They will force others into their beliefs. What can stop them? They are immune to reason, and no one can argue, but we will prevent it using means available to us.
Sir-- When will the Arabs stand up and protect Iraqi security from the Israeli military? America (and so now the other 14 members of the Security Council) is guilty of double standards for not also enforcing the many UN resolutions passed against Israel.
There are two types of Security Council resolutions: those under Chapter 6 are non-binding recommendations dealing with the peaceful resolution of disputes; those under Chapter 7 give the Council broad powers, including war, to deal with "threats to the peace... or acts of aggression". All those relating to the Israeli- Arab conflict have been voted under Chapter 6; those against Iraq have been under Chapter 7.
Moreover, the most famous resolution concerning Israel, namely Resolution 242 of 1967, does not say what most people think it does. It calls on Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories, but only in the context of obligations set for both sides in the conflict, which neither has so far fulfilled.
Prelude to attack
Sir-- Mohamed Sid-Ahmed's article 'Eliminated or postponed?' (Al-Ahram Weekly, 21-28 November) is smart.
After the US is sure there are no biological warfare weapons in Iraq, they will feel safe to attack Iraq, and take the oil free of charge to the wealthy Americans.
League lip service
Sir-- I am from India and you know that India has always supported the Arabs and Palestinians.
It pains me to see that the Arab population seems incapable of reacting to the arrogance of the Americans. How they humiliate the people of certain countries if they don't tow the line, like Iraq for instance.
How can the Arab League just give out some lip service to the various problems faced by the Middle Eastern countries and not react strongly against the Americans?
Sir-- With the upcoming elections for a new government, the Israeli people have a golden opportunity to elect a new leadership which will hopefully attempt to stop the carnage in their country.
The Likud Party under the leadership of Sharon or anyone else will bring nothing but death and destruction, and it is time that Israelis understand that Palestinians will never be brought down to their knees, no matter how high the price is.
Indeed, it is time the whole world realised that world peace must start by justice for the Palestinians.
Israel's evil axis
Sir-- Sharon-Mofaz-Netanyahu. What should we expect from such a government? And under what better title should they be dubbed than a real 'Axis of Evil'. Seen against the lessons of history, this combination does not augur well for the future of the region. In fact, it bodes ill. The three notorious men have recently shown an extreme aptitude for killing and destruction, as well as the fact that none of them is interested in peace.
The history of Sharon as a pathological killer is well-known to everyone; from the disposal and expulsion of Palestinians from their homes in 1948, to murdering Egyptian prisoners of war in 1967, to massacring Palestinian refugees in Lebanon in 1982 and killing Palestinian civilians and the destruction of their homes since he took office in 2001.
The second one, Mofaz, is the engineer of the massacre of the Palestinians in the West Bank refugee camp of Jenin, and is the mastermind behind the idea to expel Arafat from the Palestinian self- rule areas. The third, Netanyahu, is known for his intensive attempts to destroy the whole Middle East peace process when he took office as Israeli prime minister six years ago.
I think that Sharon has replaced two of his "so- called" moderate cabinet members by two hard- liners to cocoon his teetering government which is still hanging by the slenderest thread, and to declare that he is by no means interested in peace anymore.
Against all predictions that Sharon's new narrow right-wing coalition will not survive for long, I think it will survive longer than any previous government since Rabin was assassinated, because it can capitalise on the main factors which will dictate its survival. During the siege of Jenin in April 2002, an elderly Israeli person told Euronews' "No comment" programme: "Why should we risk our soldiers? Bomb them (the Palestinians) from the air, kill all of them, end of story." So, isn't that the same theme of "Sharon-Mofaz-Netanyahu"? To force all Palestinians out of their homeland.
I hope you now understand why I foresee that this new Israeli government will survive. Earlier, Bush had only a sweet "man of peace" whom he blindly supported, but now he gained another couple. I'm not a pessimist, but does anyone see a glimpse of hope with the prospects of such an extreme government now in place? I do hope that I'm wrong.
Sir-- The article 'The largest prison in the world' (Al-Ahram Weekly, 17-23 October) has no pretence of objectivity, but instead provides Al-Ahram Weekly's readers with the same old refrain of Zionist "atrocities". Although the reporter Khaled Amayreh provides lurid details of Palestinian deaths, he dismisses out of hand the version of events offered by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF).
Notably absent is any mention of the real target of IDF operations, militant groups such as Hamas and the Tanzim, which deliberately choose to engage Israeli forces in areas densely populated by their countrymen. Indeed, one can but come to the writer's conclusion: that the territories are evolving into a big "concentration camp".
The reality of terrorism and violent insurgence by Palestinian militant groups is apparently an inconvenient but trifling detail for Amayreh. In fact, there is no evidence that Israel has a policy, written or "unwritten" of killing any Palestinian non- combatants, let alone a quota of such deaths. It is this sort of irresponsible journalism that makes a mockery of the alleged independence of Al-Ahram Weekly.
Sir-- The article by Jonathan Cook on the killing of Ian Hook in Jenin 'What really happened' (Al- Ahram Weekly, 28 November - 4 December) shows how completely unreliable Israeli sources are, whether it is local commanders of the IDF or Netanyahu himself.
It has come to the point when no one can give any credit to anything any Israeli spokesman says.
Sir-- Edward Said and Noam Chomsky are just two of the names to attract attention to your newspaper -- of course there are others as well.
Thanks for the wide spectrum about the real Middle East.
Sir-- Just a quick note to congratulate you on such a comprehensive, diverse and informative paper. Like no other publication, it keeps me fully appraised of events in the Middle East and reactions to current events.
More importantly, its value stems from its investigative astuteness; there have been many a story that I first came across in your publication -- and I live in London, which is not at all short of resources.
Call it quits
Sir-- I am astonished at the predictable, reactive responses of the Arab world to the political manipulations of the West. The Arab media heaps scorn and ridicule upon the leaders of the US, as that country's interests are promoted and secured with little opposition. The Muslim world seems to be constantly reeling backwards as they underestimate and misinterpret the capabilities and intentions of America and its allies.
I sympathise with the Palestinian cause and am totally frustrated as they commit blunder after blunder. It is like watching a football game and the team you are rooting for fumbles the ball on nearly every play, while allowing the other team to score at will. After a while you realise your team is incompetent and wish they would just leave the playing field.
Biting the bullet
Sir-- The article 'Much ado about Kima' (17-23 October) goes a long way towards explaining one of the main causes of the current economic downturn. The government is unwilling to take the tough decisions required to implement an economic reform programme that will eventually lead to economic growth. Officials need to accept that economic liberalisation and privatisation come with a price tag. Inefficient, loss-making plants will be shut down and short-term unemployment will be the inevitable result.
However, in the long-run the government (and tax payers) will save billions of pounds in certain future losses. Also, the nation's resources will be put to more efficient use with the burden of management placed squarely on the private sector. The government can then simply tax profits while assuming no responsibility for losses.
Such an economic environment is much more likely to attract the foreign direct investment required to employ the 500,000 young men and women who enter the Egyptian labour market every year. It's time for the government to stop making fertilisers, baking cookies and flying commercial jets and start focusing on issues such as education and healthcare.
Sir-- Thank you for Gamal Nkrumah's comments on the rioting in Nigeria in 'Beyond salvation' (Al- Ahram Weekly, 28 November - 4 December).
It is a sad state of affairs when people of any religion resort to violence against innocents. It is clear that violence was directed against Christian churches in Kaduna that had nothing to do with the inappropriate comments made in This Day. This type of unthinking violence against random victims does great harm to the world's understanding of Islam as a religion of peace.
Sir-- I really appreciate the electronic edition of your first-class newspaper. Although your focus is Arab, I would like to suggest that you should attempt to globalise your publication. I, for one, would certainly enjoy visiting your Web site regularly.
Could you provide us with comprehensive coverage of what is happening in Angola and the DRC, tiny Lesotho, the Chinese entry into the WTO, your version of the situation in Zimbabwe and the numerous economic and political helter-skelters dotted on the global landscape?
Sir-- I read your article 'Protocols, politics and Palestine' (Al-Ahram Weekly, 7-13 November) about the conflict over Mr Sobhi's 41-part series Horseman Without a Horse. One thing I find strange is the visit Mr Sobhi paid to Saddam Hussein.
I did not know Mr Hussein was a great lover of the arts. I do know he has perpetrated many horrors against his people -- all of his people and not just the Kurds.
Why should this man be a hero in Arab eyes? Simply because he is a US target? These discussions often turn to vinegar, as they say in French.
Sir-- After reading about the tragic accident on the Suez Road, I would like to point out one of the worst things I face every day on the Autostrade between the junction on the Suez Road and the Airport. While driving along the Autostrade towards the airport and just before the new NGA Petrol Station, you suddenly find the traffic coming face-on towards you. There is obviously a defect in the planning of the road, because the traffic coming from the airport end of the Autostrade takes a left and then right turn onto the oncoming traffic. They then turn left into a side road which leads them to the main Suez Road. The turning has very obviously been put in the wrong place.
Surely if the government is concerned about the roads and safety, it should look seriously into this situation. I have seen many cars having to stop suddenly and also accidents happening because of the cars taking this Z turn. It is even more serious at night when you have horse-drawn carts and cars without lights crossing in front of you, or coming down the road in the wrong direction. I was also shocked when I saw a police car making the same mistake, surely they should know better.
It seems ridiculous that such a thing should happen on a road such as the Autostrade, or any other road for that matter. If the minister of transport is really concerned about safety and defects in planning, then I hope he will look into this situation and make the road safer.
Sir-- In 'A Diwan of contemporary life' (Al-Ahram Weekly 22 November - 4 December) we read that "A husband saw his wife (in 1930) leave the house wearing nylon stockings." Nylon in 1930? Possibly silk.