Letters to the editor
Homage to El-Morr
Sir-- A few days ago, the judge of judges, their elder, the teacher and mentor for a multitude of contemporary jurists, the incomparable scholar, the just and equitable judge, the educator and teacher, Justice Awad Mohamed El-Morr, former chief justice of the Supreme Constitutional Court, departed from our world. There is no doubt that Awad El-Morr is larger than any words or expressions; the man was a special, unique and distinct phenomenon that had, and remains to have, an unchangeable, tangible and substantial influence on the legal and judicial field, not only in Egypt but also outside its borders, and in numerous international circles and quarters.
Perhaps all those who have witnessed the tremendous developments that were achieved in the legal and judicial arena during the last decade, will stop and think about the profound role that Awad El- Morr played in modernising judicial concepts and the support for the individual's rights. Even before his appointment to the office of Chief Justice of the Supreme Constitutional Court in 1991, his goal was to achieve justice, protect the individual's rights on the basis of constitutional legitimacy and respect for the law by public authorities and individuals alike. He was helped by his advanced and enlightened thinking, and his thorough understanding of the different legal schools and doctrines, such as the Islamic, Latin, Anglo-American, and others.
The successive and resounding judicial rulings that were issued by Awad El-Morr had a wide impact on the Egyptian street and a positive and tangible effect on the policies of the country. His treatment of political, social, economic, environment and development rights were largely in accord with recognised norms in the more advanced nations. This distinguished the role of the Egyptian judiciary in the international legal arena.
If our calamity in the loss of our teacher and mentor, the late Awad El-Morr, is enormous and painful, we are however consoled that he left us with a rich and abundant wealth of his knowledge and grace. May God's mercy be upon the deceased, the kind and honourable teacher. May God inspire us and his family with patience and solace.
Adel Omar Sherif
Deputy Chief Justice of the Supreme Constitutional Court
Sir-- The fundamental conservative doctrine that "Government is the problem" as, espoused by Ronald Reagan, is neither conservative nor American. It expresses an attempt not to conserve, but to destroy the founding principle that American Government is an entity of, by, and for the people.
It's always interesting how the conservative rhetoric hides the truth by subtly deceptive phrasing. For example, calling a bill that will increase air pollution the "Clean Air Act", or a plan to cut overtime pay for millions of American workers the "Fair Pay Overtime Initiative". The truth hidden by the phrase "smaller government" is that Reaganomics never made the government smaller, but shifted tax revenue to tax cuts for the very rich and into a slush fund Defense Department that hasn't been able to balance its books for years. The things that did shrink, however, in the conservative mantra of "deregulation" were the laws designed to protect Americans from the crooks who sit on the boards of the world's largest corporations.
In general, Americans have never really quite bought into Reaganomics. That is why you hear so much praise of his personality instead of his policy. There was always something fishy about the arguments that tried to persuade the average working class American to support the demise of organised labour, and the exporting of higher paying manufacturing jobs overseas. That is why conservatives always have to be on a crusade against some evil empire or axis, lest the faithful start asking questions such as: why did we invade Iraq when the 9/11 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, and Al-Qaeda expressly hated Saddam Hussein's openly secular regime?
Somebody took their eye off the ball, and that somebody is "We, the People." It happened when we bought into the "government is bad" argument and forgot that we are the government. Into the vacuum came a "privatised" form of government, with its energy policies written by the Enrons and its foreign policy by the Halliburtons, who thrive on secrets, deception, fear, war and low wages.
But in retrospect...
Sir-- While I thought your Ronald Reagan obituary 'Neo-con icon' ( Al-Ahram Weekly, 10-16 June) might have been a bit kinder to the dead guy, I do at least admire the fact that you've stuck with your guns on this one (a tough-guy stance that Reagan probably would have admired as well). The way European news outlets have bubbled over with praise for Reagan in the last week, you'd never guess that the same columnists once considered him a simple-minded, trigger-happy cowboy who was destined to set the world aflame with his troubling combination of stupidity and sheer fire power. Having grown up (and learned to despise Republicans) during the Reagan years, I sympathise with many of the complaints your writer noted.
Nevertheless, I think you fail to recognise the most troubling thing about Reagan: he is generally acknowledged to have been right in his tough line on the Soviet Union, which was effective in hastening its demise. Whatever other mistakes he made (and they are many), this success is such an important one that it seems unfair for you to gloss it over in your obituary and move so speedily along to your litany of complaints. I believe this sort of reflexive arguing only bolsters your opponents' claim that you are fundamentally motivated by "anti- Americanism", and therefore not to be taken seriously.
Worse, what are you going to say if George W Bush (whom you identify as a political heir of Reagan) turns out to be right about the flowering of democracy in Iraq bringing about a historic and beneficial shift in the politics of the Middle East. Admittedly, the odds of this actually happening with Dubya at the helm may be slim to none, but I would have said the same about Reagan and the "Evil Empire" in 1984. What if Bush turns out to be as right as Reagan? Aren't you (by "you", I mean Al- Ahram Weekly and Arab intellectuals generally) setting yourselves up for a potentially huge fall by refusing to even consider the possibility?
Laguna Beach, CA
Sir-- I am a continuous reader of your newspaper, which I enjoy very much. You generally focus your coverage on the issues of the Palestinians and Iraq, etc, but you never write about the issue of the Kurds. What is the difference between the Kurdish problem and the Palestinian problem?
Kurds' road ahead
Sir-- In the raging debate between Kurdish and Shia leaders, both sides have a case. Given past history, the Kurds have a good case regarding constitutional substance. They need very strong protections in the future to protect themselves against conceivable versions of the tyranny of the majority. Hence, their insistence on rigid amendment rules, nullification rights and high ratification thresholds in the interim constitution. These provisions, however, threaten to make the interim constitution a source of future crises, and even disasters.
The Arab Shia leaders, led by the grand Ayatollah Al-Sistani, are very much right on the level of constitutional procedure. A significantly lower level of legitimacy (the fiat of the old Governing Council and Coalition Provisional Authority, both defunct after 30 June) cannot bind the higher one of a freely elected constitutional assembly. A coerced agreement -- like the one which produced the interim constitution in March -- cannot be considered valid even by the parties that were forced to sign it under US pressure.
There is a way out of this constitutional conundrum: renegotiate the interim constitution at the proposed national conference, with the participation of all major Iraqi forces, thus generating a type of unconstrained, pluralistic legitimacy capable of limiting even the constitutional assembly. Currently Mr Brahimi's conference has little purpose, and carries great risks. It makes sense, therefore, to give it some purpose. At such a revamped national conference, reduced in size from the unwieldy 1,500 or 1,000 spoken about, the Kurds could surrender their rigid vetoes, in return for a few unchangeable constitutional principles (as in South Africa), that would secure political federalism and cultural autonomy. It is hard to believe that the Shia leadership, having regained the constitution making rights of the majority, would object to significant minority protections.
New York, NY
Sir-- There is no denying that Egypt plays a very important role in the Middle East concerning the peace process, and the initiative that Egypt took recently concerning sending military experts to Gaza to train Palestinian security forces confirms this. The presence of Egyptian experts in Gaza will pump new blood into the body of the Palestinian security, it will also put an end to the chaos that Israeli forces left in Gaza. Moreover, the existence of Egyptian experts in Gaza will be a golden opportunity for the Palestinian forces to benefit from the experience of the Egyptian experts in the field of security methods.
However, from my perspective, Egypt will find difficulty in convincing the resistance factions to halt their operations. Egypt will be in an awkward situation once these factions refuse to stop their operations. Then Egypt will be caught between the hammer of Israel's accusations that it is responsible for the operations carried out by the resistance factions, and the anvil of halting increasing operations by the resistance.
On the whole, we hope that Egyptian experts succeed in their task in Gaza and we should also take our hats off to the Egyptian initiative.
Sleight of hand
Sir-- In reference to Azmi Bishara's column 'Only game in town' ( Al-Ahram Weekly, 10-16 June ), when one thinks of Sharon, it is impossible to be too cynical. There is one and only one reason why Sharon proposes to abandon the occupation of Gaza: he feels that holding on further to that area is untenable. Therefore, the best strategic move is to present himself as a "Man of Peace", withdraw from Gaza, and in so doing firm up his hold on the West Bank.
He is counting on the United States to go along with this, because he knows that both Kerry and Bush have the insight of hamsters when it comes to understanding what a just settlement for the Palestinians is. And so the Palestinians will be again out in the cold.
From Iraq to Pakistan
Sir-- The array of sadistic photographs depicting US soldiers abusing Iraqi detainees at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison have provoked an extraordinary revulsion against the US and its occupying forces in Iraq. At the same time, the brutal truth is that Iraqis were not tortured and humiliated for the first time -- certainly not for the last time -- either. Actually, one can safely assert that at any given moment much worse abuses than what went on in Abu Ghraib prison are administered to manifold more Muslims, by their own national official machinery. Muslims have endured much worse, more often, and seldom (if ever) getting any redress; Muslims in general and Iraqis in particular, are seemly destined to undergo such humiliation at the hands of their squatting rulers -- native and foreigner alike.
Now, let's see the whole episode with Pakistan as a backdrop. Whenever one criticises the military in Pakistan, some military apologists start chanting the mantra of incompetence, dishonesty and immorality of the civilians -- as if two wrongs make a right. They don't understand that the messiahs must have higher standards than those they dispose of. When many people, like me, denounce the military for its intervening role or demand a bit better performance and nobler character from the top brass. In Pakistan, as in Iraq, it is a pretty reasonable, as well as a fully legitimate, demand to ask for a better standard of the self-righteous conquering forces.
The next difference is that in Iraq, everyone right from George W Bush down to the brigadier in charge of the prison is apologising, and it is almost certain that if not Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld himself, some other big heads will definitely roll. In Pakistan, it is not even probable that our liberators would ever confess any wrongdoing on their part, let alone take miscreants amongst them to task.
Hassan N Chandhar
Gang of thieves
Sir-- This is in reply to Mr Steve Potempa's letter 'No problem' ( Al-Ahram Weekly, 3-9 June). I don't think the Americans are making any sense any more. Are they asking the Iraqis whose houses are raided, whose sons are either killed or taken prisoner and whose places of worship are either defiled or bombarded, to show gratitude and appreciation? They demolished the infrastructure of the country, displaced its people and fomented sectarian and separatist tendencies among its multi-ethnic populations, and now expect Iraqis to bear and grin? I call on them to stop that colonial gibberish . The days of the colonial cliché "the white man's burden" are long gone.
Let me tell them that they are in Iraq, not Africa. I can only compare them to cowboys and vagabonds, with which their literature is so suffused, who thrive on infringing on other people's privacy and are not regulated by any moral values in their scramble for loot. What Americans have been doing in Iraq is day-light robbery, the repercussions of which far outweigh the original scheme of the gang leader back in the Oval office.
Sir-- I am referring to Rasha Saad's article 'Trapped in Iraq' ( Al-Ahram Weekly, 10-16 June) about an Egyptian citizen, Victor Tawfiq Guirgis, who was seized in Iraq recently and whose life was threatened. It is comforting to read that Ambassador Farouk Mabrouk, head of the Egyptian interest section in Baghdad, "has had intensive contacts with a number of Iraqi officials and NGOs to secure Guirgis's release". We are further informed that Ahmed Maher, Egypt's foreign minister is quoted to have said "What matters to Egypt is to protect the life of this citizen, and work to get him out of this ordeal safely."
It is the duty and responsibility of every country to defend and protect its citizens. It does, however, come as a pleasant surprise that on this occasion the right thing appears to have been done by our government officials. I remember with regret and sorrow, some years ago, when thousands of Egyptians working and living in Iraq were returned home in body bags with no explanation. I was shocked to observe that there was hardly a protest or any sympathy or interest as to the fate of these poor individuals.
Is this, at last, a sign of the changing Middle East we have hoped for and dreamed of, and that our governments are beginning to pay attention to ordinary citizens and value their welfare and safety. If this is the case, then this is good news indeed. Better late than never, I suppose.
Tilting at windmills
Sir-- The post-9/11 world is, by all means, a nightmarish world of insurmountable and cataclysmic difficulties. The US has the whip hand over the whole world; world countries are bogged down in the ongoing political quagmire; trillions of dollars are being spent on wars; Sharon has been let loose to do what he wants against the Palestinian people; Islam is being stigmatised as terrorist by anyone with a loose tongue; legitimate political regimes have been accused of sponsoring terrorist groups and have been ousted; other regimes have been put on the black list; thousands, if not millions, of people are being killed, humiliated and tortured in cold blood; rates of abject poverty and unemployment have reached their peak; acts of complete sabotage are widespread; and many other things, no doubt.
The world post-9/11 is a strange one, in which everything is in constant clash. This is not sheer pessimism on my part, rather, it is the bitter truth that we witness in today's world, day and night. I want to ask: "When will all this come to an end? When will Uncle Sam and his allies stop tilting at windmills?"
I wish I could see a world in which the major powers put in the time, effort and money to help the poor and the down- trodden in the world. It is truly unfair to see millions, if not billions, of people suffer from abject poverty and malnutrition in the world, while the major powers spend huge sums of money on wars. I wish the members of the G8 had tackled chronic problems like those facing the poor and the down-trodden of today's world.
Let us work together to beautify life on earth, instead of aggravating it to a degree that makes life itself unbearable; let us call on those who are at the helm of the world: Please, Stop tilting at windmills.
Sir-- Someone should shake Sherif Hetata's hand for writing 'Which democracy?' ( Al- Ahram Weekly, 10-16 June). It is an excellent piece. As a sociology professor, I will distribute it to students in my seminar on globalisation, come the Fall semester.
Sir-- You have an excellent Web site which is very well presented and easy to access. I will make the Al-Ahram Weekly page an integral part of my weekly reading quota.
Baffled on the streets
Sir-- What is wrong with us? I often ask myself this questions. A few days ago, I saw a 12-year boy holding his penknife and cutting into the leather of his seat on one of the newly introduced buses racing our streets. I spoke with him, but he looked at me sceptically and continued his mission. What is wrong with our children?
That incident is reminiscent of the three adults I saw once, trying to pull down a shrub at a bus stop, while others looked on. What is wrong with our youth? How many times did you come across educated people throwing their garbage out of the window of their car? What is wrong with our educated grown-ups? According to the latest statistics, a civil servant in our country works only 30 minutes a day. What is wrong with our civil servants and their bosses?
We look to our revered university professors, but more often than not they do not measure up to their responsibilities and partake in embezzlement, nepotism and graft. What is wrong with our professors? Seven years ago, a few members of parliament -- with the help of some corrupt officials -- misappropriated over LE30 billion and fled the country. Two years ago, the same farce took place with new protagonists who took over LE60 billions. What is wrong with our conscience?
It appears that the fault partially lies with our education system and inadequate guidance on the part of parents at home. We want to instill in our children a sense of aestheticism, not an inferior imitation of it; we want strict application of the carrot and stick formula and select role modes and leaders to run our country honestly and efficiently. For the sake of a better tomorrow, we have to arm the coming generations with a culture of responsibility and democracy. In the meantime, accountability should be applied to all, without discrimination.
Sir-- The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is currently sponsoring and funding a highly ambitious project in Egypt called "Partners for a Competitive Egypt" (PFC-Egypt). The project aims at using information technology in some public and private Egyptian schools, to enable teachers and students to make the best possible use of modern learning techniques, made available through providing access to computers and the Internet.
The schools where the project is being implemented have been equipped with computers, LCDs, and other hi-tech machines. Students participating in this programme have the opportunity of becoming independent learners. The ultimate goal of this programme is to enable Egyptian students to acquire the skills necessary for survival in an amazingly changing world and a highly competitive labour market. What Egypt really needs is a generation that is capable of "thinking outside the box", a generation that is able to attain sustainable development. The 'Partners for a Competitive Egypt' programme is expected to yield the best possible results in the near future.
I take my hat off to all the wonderful people who are working so hard to make this project a great success, and I hope that your highly esteemed paper will provide in-depth coverage of this exceptional and praiseworthy human endeavour in the field of education.
Easam Hanna Wahba