Sir-- Thank you so much for saying in 'What if?' (Al-Ahram Weekly, 12-18 June) what nobody has had the nerve to say, regarding the threat to peace posed by the US continually taking sides in the Middle East. Believe me, many traditional US conservatives are fed up with funding apocalyptic visions, empires, and so on. American, Israeli and Palestinian politicians can make any idiotic decision they please and still live to tell the tale. It is the Israeli and Palestinian people, especially the poor people who don't have bodyguards and media representatives, who must live in fear because of the conflict- enflaming results of those decisions.
Let's suggest that US fundamentalist radicals (it's ludicrous to refer to people who salivate at the thought of bloodshed as "Christian") to find themselves an island, use their mountains of money to buy or rent it, then set up camp with plenty of arms and invite every violence-endorsing US and Middle Eastern politicians to join them in Operation Armageddon.
If they're raptured up, these men who dream of material and spiritual victory over the rest of us, well I say more power to them. In fact, Fox and CNN could joust for exclusive coverage of the spectacle -- just imagine the ratings and lucrative action-figure tie-ins. If it turns out they've got God's message a bit twisted and find this out the hard way, well it will still be a good show.
Maybe then the road to peace -- not the "roadmap", doomed from its inception because it was sponsored by a man who finds peace pretty boring (and unhelpful for re-election purposes) -- would at last become a possibility for the rest of us who just want to live and be happy, for goodness sake.
T P Whitehurst
Sir-- In response to John V Whitbeck's 'What if?' (Al-Ahram Weekly, 12-18 June). Mr Whitbeck's regard for world opinion is frightening.
World opinion usually causes the problems that America has to fix; communism, Nazism, Islamo-fascism, European military nationalism, genocide, appeasement and the like.
The scenario the writer describes, namely the US washing its hands of the Middle East conflict and withholding supporting any group, already happened in 1967. If the US were to declare neutrality today, the Arabs would once again feel emboldened to attack. A threatened and nuclear- armed Israel would lash out and annihilate the Arabs. Then there would be peace.
David A Friedman
Sir-- John V Whitbeck's article 'What if?' (Al- Ahram Weekly, 12-18 June) is correct in stating the advantages of complete US disengagement from supporting Israel and meddling in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. That is, it correctly states the advantages to ordinary people in Israel, Palestine and the United States. But the article leaves out the other half of the equation, without which it is not possible to understand why the US stays engaged.
The other half of the equation is that the US, Israeli and Arab elites -- as opposed to most of "their" people -- benefit greatly from US engagement, because they need ethnic war between Jews and Arabs to simmer and occasionally escalate. Jewish and Arab elites can only legitimise their power and maintain their control and domination over "their own" people by claiming to be defending them against "the Jews" or "the Arabs" as the case may be.
Israel's aggressive oppression of Palestinians is done to foment ethnic war. The US ruling elite supports Israel precisely for that reason, because its greatest fear is that democratic and anti- corporate movements might spread in the Middle East unless anti-democratic elites are helped to stay in power.
Sir-- Regarding 'What if?' (Al-Ahram Weekly, 12-18 June) on the US pulling out of the Middle East crisis, I totally agree and so do many Americans who have been labelled "anti-American" for our opinions and speaking out on issues such as this.
I am saving this article to pass on to my friends. It was down to earth and so obvious a solution. May the force be with us.
Beth A Bobko
Seize the moment!
Sir-- To me, 'The long and winding roadmap' (Al-Ahram Weekly, 15-21 May) indicates that the US and Egyptian administrations are far away from being in agreement. The chosen title for the article is a clear signal that the authors also recognise the political camouflages from both sides.
I have a few comments to make. Why do the Egyptian officials think the US is now taking a more hands-on approach to the Palestinian conflict and the Middle East as whole? Why (now) are there discussions about a Free Trade Zone between the US and Middle East? Why is the US plan packed with extensive areas of change across the region -- changes which most Arab leaders could not absorb?
The answers can be debatable and can be very noble, but one thing is clear -- the US administration has clearly shown that it needs "select" Arab administrations to subscribe to the plan at this stage. I believe that now is the time those select Arab officials can have an effective contribution, because now is the time when the US administration cannot do without their participation. This is a golden opportunity for Arab leaders to negotiate.
They would not be negotiating for their individual countries, but for the Palestinians and Arabs in general. I believe now is the time to leave the political cage and step onto the stage with clear demands. As Powell says, "seize the opportunity." This time it may very well have been addressed to you, select Arab leaders.
Beams and splinters
Sir-- Your cartoonist makes fun of the notion that Israel is a Jewish state. How would you react if Westerners find the idea of uniquely Muslim states utterly preposterous and anachronistic?
Furthermore, it is much easier to be a Muslim or a Christian in Israel than to be a Jew or Christian in Muslim states.
Why is it that Arabs tend to see with clarity the splinter in every infidel's eye, but almost without exception fail to perceive the enormous beams of wood in their own eyes?
Ronald van der Wieken
Biting the bullet
Sir-- I was slightly surprised by Dr Beshai's article 'Privatisation, liberalisation and all that -- revisited' (Al-Ahram Weekly, 12-18 June). What needs to happen before Dr Beshai realises that big government just doesn't work? Preaching competition without privatisation is like preaching for safe sex and chastity at the same time. Hasn't Dr Beshai learnt from the mistakes of Perestroika?
Furthermore, equating liberalisation to privatisation is superficial. The latter is only part of a greater concept that seeks to improve the society as a whole. Liberalisation fundamentally instills the 'can do' mentality in people. We need not search too far to experience this -- Dubai is a classic example of how liberalisation can work in an Arab context.
Moving to Egypt, Dr Beshai describes the government's role in liberalisation over the past 10 years. The question is what liberalisation programme? What tangible actions were taken? What are the concrete results? How has our society been liberalised?
Apart from improved infrastructure, a devalued pound and a few privatised companies, tangibly nothing fundamental has happened.
Dr Beshai mentions Poland in his article, and Poland just reinforces Egypt's failures. In 1991 Poland's economy was approximately the same size as Egypt's; today it's three times that of Egypt's. How did the Poles achieve this? They bit the bullet, swallowed the bitter pill, they took tough decisions -- they invested in their people. Now they are reaping the fruits. Egypt is the land of missed opportunities and if we continue to listen to the 'old school' we are doomed.
Where I agree with Dr Beshai is that the Egyptian government needs to be 'enlightened' and does have an important role to play. Instead of running large, corrupt and inefficient companies, it needs to invest in the youth, deregulate our schools and universities, free our sclerotic banking system, route out chronic nepotism, arrogance and corruption from within its ranks. It needs to swallow its pride and learn from other countries' successes and mistakes. Remember, we don't need to re-invent the wheel.
I long for the day when reasons other than emotions make me want to return to Egypt. Unfortunately, as an Egyptian living abroad, nothing that the government has done with regards to liberalisation aspires me to come back home.
Sir-- I noticed that your newspaper has been showing much concern with and closely following development of the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) situation in China. Some of the reports came out of official sources of China but others were quoted from unfounded coverage by some Western media. Hereby, I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude for your efforts and brief you on the latest development of SARS in China.
The SARS epidemic in China has further mitigated and the number of cases of infection witnessed an obvious decline. The WHO (World Health Organisation) has lifted travel advice for all infected provinces and regions of China except Beijing. In the meantime, there has been no new confirmed cases in Beijing for over 20 days. It has been concluded that SARS in China has already been brought under effective control. Public daily life and social order are returning to normal. I would like to provide you with some information about the battle against the SARS epidemic by the Chinese government and the people.
Since the outbreak of SARS, the Chinese government has been attaching great importance to controlling the epidemic, solving the problem and -- under the leadership of state leaders -- making incessant efforts to this end. The efforts include establishing a nationwide public health emergency management mechanism, isolating confirmed and suspected SARS patients, taking effective measures to prevent cross-infection, setting up a special funding for SARS prevention, providing free medical service to SARS-infected peasants. Furthermore, Chinese medical research personnel and relevant government departments have carried out effective cooperation with the WHO and other SARS- infected countries and regions for better prevention and treatment measures. All the above efforts have contributed to the successful containment of the epidemic. Besides, the Chinese government remains vigilant and continues with follow-up reinforcement measures so as to prevent a possible come-back.
Indeed, SARS did produce some temporary negative impact on the Chinese economy and work in some other fields. However, the Chinese government adheres to the principles of "fighting SARS on one hand and developing the economy on the other". Effective measures consist of helping the SARS-stricken small businesses and low- income groups, reinvigorating the service sector, speeding up construction of mega-projects, fostering new consumption growth points, constantly improving the investment environment, expanding export and faithfully practicing the policy of expanding domestic demand. It is estimated that growth rate of Chinese economy in 2003 would still be no less than seven per cent.
With the mitigation of the SARS epidemic, exchanges between China and other countries are resumed in a step-by-step manner. Recently, Chinese President Hu Jintao paid a state visit to Russia and attended the third summit meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and the informal South-North leaders dialogue at Evian, France. China has also successfully chaired talks between China, North Korea and the United States in Beijing. In the spirit of being responsible to the people of the world, the Chinese government has adopted many measures concerning persons travelling to other countries to ensure there is no spread of SARS and eliminating the fear of some people. Such measures include issuing and producing health certificates, infrared temperature detecting at airports and interrupting travels by persons with abnormal body temperature. The foregoing facts amply show that the Chinese government is a responsible one, not only to the Chinese people but also to the people of the world.
Chinese Embassy in Cairo
Out of tune
Sir-- I respectfully disagree with some of Amal Choucri Catta's commentary in her article 'Overtures to the summer lull' (Al-Ahram Weekly, 12- 18 June). My wife and I are on a short vacation in Egypt and decided to pay the Opera a visit. We attended the fourth Beethoven Festival concert and I found Moushira Issa's interpretation of Beethoven's piano concerto No 4 to be flat and uninspiring. While I do admire Moushira's technical prowess, nonetheless her understanding of the composer's motives and the circumstances during which this magnificent composition was born misses the mark.
At times she exaggerated in bringing out the "Mozartian" aspect in the concerto, even though Beethoven's genius revolved around his departure from the "classical" school of music, especially in his late works. And at other times she seemed to slow down in various passages, especially in the first and third movements, to highlight certain effects which interrupted the flow and dynamic exchange between the piano and orchestra.
Her rendition of this particular composition was at best a second-rate blend of the late virtuoso pianist Leon Fleischer with his controlled emotion (as witnessed in his cycle five recordings in the 1960s); the revolutionary fervour and precision of the late Emil Gilels; and the romanticism of Alfred Brendel. A performer should take a stance and evaluate the work from a holistic perspective and not shred the work into incoherent pieces then patch it together during a performance.
Having said all that, credit should be given to the conductor Ahmed El-Saedi and the orchestra. I was delighted to witness that despite their difficulty, El-Saedi brought out so many elements in the other two compositions on the programme.
Hossam Sami Sultan
Sir-- In Gihan Shahine's piece 'Put on your jeans and hate the US' (Al-Ahram Weekly, 12-18 June), Shahine quotes Professor Hamouda making the common mistake of attributing a sophisticated sense of discrimination to those Egyptians who "are civilised enough to make the distinction between [US] policy and people..." -- as opposed to Americans who cannot differentiate between Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi people.
What the English professor gets wrong is that US policy is actually determined by, for and of the people. We are not victims of our government; we determine our government through free elections. This fact is incontrovertible.
US citizens are in fact at a distinct advantage in distinguishing someone like, for instance, Saddam Hussein from the ordinary people of Iraq. Saddam Hussein -- who was left to enact his evil devices upon Iraqi nationals and was even encouraged by the total green light given by all other Arabs -- is properly considered evil by Americans. The Iraqi people who were only harmed by Hussein and further harmed by the utter disregard of their fellow Arabs, are correctly known as victims by the average American citizen.
If and when you decide to have true freedom of choice in the Middle East, you will understand that the citizens of the USA have indeed chosen our government. Readers would be well advised not to become reliant upon the malcontent Americans who write letters to Al-Ahram Weekly who thrilled to find no sane obstruction to their complete self-hatred. It is the kind of self-contempt which predictably gets expressed in the usual Marxist political terms.
Just know this self-hatred is not a reliable measure of sound thinking about our own culture. More normal Americans regard freedom as a sacred trust and vote accordingly.
Sir-- Regarding 'Put on your jeans and hate the US' (Al-Ahram Weekly, 12-18 June). I just hope that "anti- Americanism" does not extend to those of us "Americans" who do care about and value all humanity.
If our voices and feet had the power of those in charge, life would be different. Ultimately, once combined, our power is greater; and, our voices and feet have made an impact which we will continue to use. After all, voice and movement however small they may seem, are powers to which all humanity is born.
Sir-- I can't believe the decision to ban The Matrix Reloaded from being released in Egypt. I was waiting eagerly to watch this wonderful movie and they have banned it for ridiculous reasons.
Unlike the last time in 1999 when they banned The Matrix and released it a year later, I will not sit around and do nothing. I will bombard them with e-mails and letters until they come to their senses and realise that they can't decide for us what we should and shouldn't watch. They can't simply ban the movie and get away with it.
I urge your readers to e-mail or write a letter to His Excellency Mr Farouk Hosni, minister of culture, at email@example.com and fax (202) 735-6449.
Ahmed Abdo Ahmed
All in one
Sir-- I never have the time and leisure to read your very interesting and stimulating 'Readers' Corner' section. So I am suggesting the publication of an annual book compiling the year's letters published in Al-Ahram Weekly.
If you could collect all the letters to the editor since the first issue of the Weekly and compiled them with the relevant articles mentioned in the letters all in one book, I am sure you would find a wide readership and a substantial added revenue for the Weekly.
I am convinced that many people like me, who don't have the time to read the whole page every week, would be certain to purchase the annual book and form a library containing exciting reading of the immediate events of each year, with international responses to the events. These would be books that will remain for the reader to enjoy over the years, year after year.
Of course the idea of an annual book will entail added work for those who would compile the Letter pages and relevant articles. These annual compilations would be enriching, not only for the readers today but also for posterity.
Sir-- Damien Kingsbury's article about Aceh 'East Timor -- year one' (Al-Ahram Weekly, 12- 18 June) was interesting. Since the Indonesian government's military campaign on 18 May, we know nothing about how successful the Indonesian National Army (TNI) has been in securing the situation in Aceh. In addition, many media organisations reported that the Indonesian government prevented them from reporting the conflict and military operations. This raises many questions about what really happened in Aceh.
If the reason of military aggression in Aceh is to bring security, save civilians and maintain law and order, that is acceptable. But then why is the Indonesian government worried about allowing the international media from covering their operations in Aceh?
Furthermore, since military operations started in Aceh, reports about human rights abuses, atrocities and aggression perpetrated by the TNI are on the rise. Locking civilians in their homes and burning them; destruction of villages; and the burning of more than 400 schools. Is this what they are trying to hide from exposure?
The conflict in Aceh has killed more than 12,000 civilians since the Indonesian government made Aceh a TNI combat field, but all military action has been in vain. The numbers of secessionist GAM fighters is increasing, and Damien Kingsbury is quite right: TNI is obviously in the process of creating a new generation of GAM.
The letter 'Warsaw ghetto (redux)' (Al-Ahram Weekly, 19-25) has proven to be inauthentic. We discovered that much of the substance of the letter was plagiarised from a commentary by British MP Oona King under the title 'Israel can halt this now', published in The Guardian on 12 June.
We duly apologise for the inadvertent mistake, and promise to take greater care in selecting letters for publication.
Al-Ahram Weekly reserves the right to edit letters submitted to Readers' Corner for brevity and clarity. Readers are advised to limit their letters to a maximum of 300 words.
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