Soft on suffering
The Palestinian political conundrum and the water crisis in Egypt were compared, write Gamal Nkrumah
and Mohamed El-Sayed
Suffering seems to be the main theme of the commentaries. The suffering of stranded Palestinians, of the personal plight of the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as he survives yet another assassination attempt, and of Egyptians struggling for the right to clean, readily available potable water.
Regional politics were brought into play. Indeed, water politics in the country are already causing ructions. The analogy between the suffering of the Palestinian people and that of poor Egyptians was poignant. The daily independent Al-Masry Al-Yom continued a series of articles and reports highlighting the severe lack of drinking water in many villages in the Delta governorates. According to the paper, "the thirsty people" bitterly complained about their ill-treatment by the authorities that seem impervious to their plight. "The government treats us as if we are Israelis -- and the police chase us," ran a headline in Al-Masry Al-Yom, quoting a water- lacking citizen.
In much the same vein, Osama Heikal wrote an opinion piece in the same paper entitled "A drop of water equals democracy". Indeed, this theme of equating the struggle for potable water with the fight for democratisation and political reform cropped up time and again. "I feel ashamed when I read news reports about a water shortage crisis in the Delta governorates. I am ashamed when I see Egyptians carrying empty bottles and walking for eight kilometres for their water. And I feel humiliated when I see officials accuse those thirsty people of being saboteurs."
The Egyptian people's right to potable water, ironically at a season when the rains in the Ethiopian highlands have been exceptionally heavy in the past few weeks, causing heavy flooding in Sudan, caused much ink to flow. In antiquity, Egypt was supposed to be the "Gift of the Nile" as Herodotos so rightly observed, so why are the inhabitants of contemporary Egypt in such short supply of water?
Commentators conjured up questions of leadership. Certain writers pleaded with President Hosni Mubarak to intervene and resolve the water crisis in the country. "I thought that President Mubarak, who stresses in every speech that the ordinary citizen's problems are his only concern, would be agitated by these scenes published in newspapers and aired on satellite channels," lamented Heikal. "I thought he would hold accountable those officials at once. Or at least he would form a neutral committee to investigate these humiliating conditions which are marring his regime," Heikal suggested.
Again, the direct correlation between democracy and water was emphasised. "True democracy is what actually forces any regime and the government to solve the problems facing the people. But this kind of fake democracy we experience isolates officials from the problems and hence they do not solve them. The end result is that Egypt, the people of the country through which the River Nile runs, is suffering from the non-existence of clean drinking water," wrote Heikal.
Fatma Sayed Ahmed, writing in the weekly magazine Rose El-Youssef, tackled the prickly question of arms dealers in the Middle East. "Arms dealing is a sure way of making billions" in this part of the world, Ahmed wrote. She proceeded to highlight the means and mechanisms of the arms trade that has proven to be one of the most lucrative businesses in the region. She also exposed the top arms dealers of the Arab world. The names were predictable: Ashraf Marwan, who late last month fell to his death from his fifth floor apartment in London under mysterious circumstances. She also mentions two distinguished Saudis: Sheikh Kamal Adham, founder of the American University in Cairo's famed Adham Centre for Television Journalism, and the notorious Adnan Khashoggi, among the shadowy arms traders who profited tremendously by buying and selling weaponry.
In another equally enthralling article in the same issue of Rose El-Youssef, Mervat El-Hakim stressed the link between excess arms production in Western nations and the $950 billion global arms trade, which El-Hakim noted enriches wealthy countries and ravages poor ones. No less than 68 per cent of the deadliest small arms are purchased by developing countries. "Four permanent members of the United Nations Security Council have emerged as the largest exporters of arms in the world," El-Hakim wrote. "America and Russia top the list," she added.
On a different but no less lethal subject, Mustafa Bakri, writing in the weekly independent Al-Osbou, highlights the miserable circumstances surrounding the thousands of Palestinians who are trapped at the Rafah crossing point.
"It's a human tragedy in the full sense of the word that took the lives of at least 11 people," Bakri noted. "It is odd that the Palestinian Authority headed by Abbas [Abu Mazen] urges other sides not to open the Rafah border crossing, claiming that a number of those who are trapped are elements who were trained in Syria and Lebanon."
Bakri went on to note that the countries of the region might become embroiled in the crisis. "The fear is that the current circumstances might lead to a military clash between Egyptian Central Security forces lying on the borders and the executive forces of Hamas, a matter that could lead to the fall of dozens of people, which will have serious implications."
Editor-in-Chief of Rose El-Youssef Abdallah Kamal focussed on the attempt to assassinate the Palestinian president. "Time passes, days pass by, a semblance of calm prevails and reactions are seemingly more tempered. Some in the media even try to cover up the crime committed in Gaza. Many ignore the questions that must be put forward," Kamal noted.
"Questions must be asked about what Hamas has done in the land of Palestine. It is as if nothing whatsoever happened but what actually happened was a dangerous precedent," Kamal concluded.
Abdel-Moneim Said writing in the daily Al-Ahram focussed on the first anniversary of the Israeli war against Lebanon.
"The war between Hizbullah and Israel ended like other Arab wars in which the struggle changed from one with the [outside] enemy to an internal battle. One party thought that 'resistance' gives it the right to control the entire political system."
"It's surprising that Israel formed an investigative committee that issued the so-called Winograd Committee Report which held the government responsible for the mistakes committed during the war. On the other side, however, nobody in Lebanon or in the Arab world was ready to open an investigation into the military and political responsibility [for the war]. Instead, big celebrations of victory were held."
Said said he had grave reservations about the conduct of the Lebanese. "Although the war unified Lebanese ranks at the beginning, it was the reason behind dividing Lebanon into factions and parties after its end. What's more dangerous is that the war pushed Lebanon to the edge of civil war anew," Said warned.
He ended on a sobering note. "Whether Hizbullah achieved victory or suffered defeat in this war, the fact is that the current situation in Lebanon is disappointing."