The almost unanimous backing of newspaper pundits for John Kerry epitomises the indignation at President Bush's record in office, writes Gamal Nkrumah
The US presidential elections naturally grabbed the headlines this week. As has become the rule, the Democratic candidate Senator John Kerry was swathed in superlatives while United States President George W Bush came under fire. From the tone of the editorials and commentaries, the national daily Al- Ahram clearly championed Kerry. Bush, on the other hand, was dismissed as anti-Arab and anti-Muslim with bitter recriminations. "The Bush administration insisted on invading Iraq for reasons which turned out to be unfounded. There were no weapons of mass destruction and Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with Al-Qaeda," remarked the straight-talking columnist Salah Montasser in Al-Ahram.
The writer embarked on a methodological demolition of the Bush administration's case for going to war with Iraq. "Bush defied the world by gambling on a war of guaranteed results. He was sure that the war would make the US a stronger and even more dominant country," Montasser explained. He went on to launch a scathing critique of the Bush administration's foreign policy which he stressed alienated many long-standing traditional Arab and European allies of the US.
The other national daily Al-Akhbar also speculated about the outcome of the US presidential poll. "Who'll become the 44th president?" ran a headline in a two-page spread on the US presidential race in Al-Akhbar 's Monday edition.
On Tuesday, Al-Akhbar 's Editor-in-Chief Galal Dweidar again rhetorically asked the pertinent question: Who'll snatch the American presidency -- Bush or Kerry? In his view, Muslims and Arabs face a difficult choice.
In 2000, Arabs and Muslims in America voted overwhelmingly for President Bush. "They were soon to be sorely disappointed," Dweidar muses. "America with all its military might stood firmly behind Israel's brutal aggression against the hapless Palestinian people."
Al-Akhbar also gave considerable coverage to domestic concerns. In its Tuesday edition, the front page headline read, "Germany welcomes today's visit by President Mubarak". In the lead article, the paper highlighted the close bilateral relations between Egypt and Germany, the most populous Arab and European nations respectively.
The paper's front page banner was reserved, however, for domestic concerns. "[President Hosni] Mubarak outlines a new plan to develop higher education in a cabinet meeting", ran the front page headline in Monday's edition of Al-Akhbar. Details of the proposed presidential plan for higher education, research and information technology were highlighted in the inside pages of the paper. "The president stressed the critical importance of training educators in state-of-the-art technologies," wrote Mohamed Shamaa in Al-Akhbar.
The national daily Al-Gumhuriya also gave prominence to home affairs. On the front page banner in its Tuesday edition, the paper quoted Interior Minister Habib El-Adli as saying that Egypt provides no sanctuary to Al-Qaeda cells nor to any other terrorist organisation. El-Adli, who was commenting on the recently released reports on those who committed the Taba terrorist attacks, praised Egypt's security apparatus and defended the country's emergency laws.
Perhaps religious inquiry is the secret ingredient brought in to pep up flagging newspaper sales in Ramadan. One would expect the odd question on the rules and regulations of fasting, but with the wave of religiosity sweeping the country, even the most secular of publications such as the weekly Rose El-Youssef, devoted entire pages to religious inquiry and debate.
"Does one use his right foot first to enter a bathroom? Or must one use his left foot since the bathroom is unclean?" wondered one reader. "Do I break my fast if I brush my teeth in the morning?" asked another.
Not all questions, however, were trivial. Some tackled serious topics such as the tradition of aatekaf, whereby during the last 10 days of Ramadan devout Muslims eschew the world and retire in seclusion in mosques to devote themselves entirely to prayer.
In Al-Ahram 's religious page, Ali Gomaa, the grand mufti of Egypt, declared that aatekaf was a practice of the Prophet Mohamed, but stressed that he did not enjoin believers to follow suit. Aatekaf, the grand mufti stressed, was not obligatory in Islam.
Opposition papers on the whole were less interested in the sublime and more interested in mundane matters such as the state of the economy and grappling with social ills. "We advise [Prime Minister Ahmed] Nazif to inform his ministers, especially those in charge of economy ministries, to be economical with words," wrote Suleiman Guwdah in Al-Wafd.
"People do not have time for protracted explanations of what this minister and that minister intend to do. They want concise statements about what the ministers have actually achieved."
"It is evident that the lines of communication have become crossed. Nazif was once communications minister. He should untangle the mess right away."
Official interest in instituting a new reliable taxi system in Cairo also captured the attention of reporters. Plans are afoot to set up four different companies to run taxi services for the capital. Apparently some 2,000 taxis would be in operation, according to a front page report in Thursday's edition of Al-Ahram.
It's that time of year again. Smog, acrid and suffocating, hangs heavy over the city. Eyes burn, bouts of catarrh, sore throats and asthmatic attacks proliferate. Officials point an accusing finger towards the peasants who burn rice straw at this time of the year. October, once the country's most beautiful month, has emerged as its most dreaded and loathed. The annual appearance of the smog has become a health hazard, many commentators complained. But most agree that the peasant is not to blame. "It is unreasonable to ask a peasant who plants one or two feddans of rice to purchase a press to get rid of the rice hay," Abdel-Aziz Al-Nahhas pointed out in Al-Wafd.
The authorities, it was written, must shoulder the responsibility. "Officials could easily draw up a list of the names and locales of rice farmers through agricultural cooperatives and collect the rice straw, utilising it in fodder and other industries," Al-Nahhas added.
Most Egyptian papers speculated about the health of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. "The Palestinian leader begins to drink milk without throwing up," noted a front page report in Al-Ahram that detailed the minutiae of the bed-ridden Palestinian leader's medical condition.