February 28, 2005

When It's Cold..

When it's cold in the outside (and in the inside), a recipe that has proven great success is to listen to a cheesy Amr Diab song. It makes you laugh and dance.

February 27, 2005

Nothing Has Ever Me Happier

Nine o’clock on a Saturday morning, the phone rings. “Are you still sleeping? The world is changing around you and you are still sleeping?!”

I read the BBC, CNN, Reuters, and Al Jazeera. They were all saying the same thing. The same happy news! President Mubarak surprised everyone with his decision to propose a constitutional amendment that would allow more than one candidate to run in the presidential elections.

For the first time ever, we will be allowed to elect directly our leader. Few days ago a friend of mine living in the UK was being sarcastic of the fact that he is allowed to vote in a survey related to the subway system in London but he can not choose who will be the person living in El Kobba presidential palace. Well, my friend, President Mubarak is about to make your wish come true.

As much as I am happy, as much I am skeptical. After two days of the announcement, here is what I expect the coming period scenario will be. It is not as rosy as we would want it to be. Yet, it is a good chance to “play ball” with President Mubarak. I first have to salute President Mubarak on his intelligence in the timing of the announcement and the choice of the article to be amended.

The timing could not have been better. It is early enough to calm down all the pressures from the inside and the outside. It is also gives an adequate time span for the discussions of the amendment. When it will be approved (supposedly in May), there will be barely any time to discuss any other constitutional amendments before the presidential elections. Not to mention it will give no time to any other candidate to introduce himself (or wishfully herself) to the Egyptian voters. And the best part is that the announcement came after the meeting between the National Democratic Party and the rest of the opposition parties. The outcome of this national dialogue meeting was that no constitutional amendments are to be proposed before the presidential elections. Hmm! But President Mubarak wants to portray the image of the reformer. He and his party are keener for the political reform than the opposition parties. He took the initiative by himself!

The choice of the article 76 was a brilliant choice. Even better, the proposed amendment is a work of art. Existing political parties can nominate their candidates to run directly in the presidential elections. But when it comes to independent candidates, they still need to get an approval from the parliament. The percentage of parliament members that will give approval is yet to be determined. But does it make a difference, since the parliament is controlled by the NDP. I would be very surprised if an NDP parliament member approves another candidate especially if candidate from the Muslim Brotherhood. So what are we left with? Mr. Mubarak will run again (which is the most expected scenario). He will be probably contested by some candidates from the weak opposition parties. And if you put all pieces together, you will not be surprised that the outspoken and bold leader of El Ghad party Ayman Nour was arrested few weeks ago. Of all the articles that need to be amended, Mr. Mubarak chose to “start” with article 76. He did not include the ones that deal with the president powers and duration in office. At the end of the year, Mr. Mubarak will be still the president, he will still retain all the unlimited powers that he had, and, as bonus, he gained the mandate of being an “elected” president. All this coming in the package of being a historical president that opened the way to democracy in Egypt.

It is not the rosy scenario that all of us want. But we still should be happy. I am still happy. I am happy because I have always believed change is possible and it will come someday. Regardless of Mubarak’s intentions, this is a historical change. I am happy that I am living to witness this change in my country.

But most of all, I am happy that pressure has proved that it can yield change. We still need to continue to demand more reform. The emergency law has to be stopped. The other constitution articles dealing with the president power and duration in office need to be changed. The laws governing the establishment of political parties have to be relaxed.
If there is no demand for reform, there will be no supply of reform. As much as we demand as much as we will get. We still have a long way to go.

February 22, 2005

We Want To Do It Ourselves!

I just listened to the young Egyptian lady Sharouq El-Rays talking to NPR's Robert Siegel about democracy in Egypt. Here is what she said when she was asked about democracy in Egypt:
“We want to do it ourselves! We do not want President Bush to come and make it himself”

I hope you read this one day. I am so proud of you. You just gave me a lot of hope after a short phase of despair and sadness.

Please listen to Sharouq and other young Egyptians talking about their future on NPR.

February 20, 2005

Flame in the Dark

Fairuz concert was an intensively emotional experience. The words that remind us of home, family, and friends were there in Place des Arts. The music came all the way from Lebanon to enchant the Arab community of Montreal and North America. The miraculous voice of Fairuz was there for us to make us cry, makes us nostalgic and to inspire us.
God bless you Fairuz.

A thank you for my good Lebanese friend who inspired me with the title of the post after seeing the photo. Another thank you for my other Lebanese friend for the good company.
A “merci beaucoup” for the nice Quebecois gentleman who lend me his powerful binoculars. A final thank you for my good friend who lend me the digital camera. And an apology for the Place des Arts management for breaking the rules by sneaking a camera and taking photos. Posted by Hello

Benkhaf Manikhtishish

In preparatory school, our science teacher and preparatory section director Monsieur Raouf Asmar, used to give us hard time about doing (or not doing) things out of fear. He used to say the famous saying: “benkhaf manikhtishish” (we fear but we do not shy out). The moral for 15 year old teenagers is that most of the people do acts out of fear not out of duty or respect or out of consideration. At the time, it was true. We, nasty teenagers, used to pretend discipline when he was around and when he was away we wore our red devilish dress. I would hate that our government would have the same teenager attitude.

During her press conference with H.E. Mr. Ahmed Abou El Gheit, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reiterated what President Bush mentioned during his State of the Union Address. “The Egyptian Government has the opportunity and the responsibility to be as great a leader for reform in the region as it has been a leader for peace”, she said. Opportunity and responsibility!! She also expressed “strong concerns” about the imprisonment of opposition party leader Ayman Nour. Our Minister of Foreign Affairs did not comment on the two issues during the press conference. But once he returned home, presses releases came out announcing that the political reform is an ongoing process and that Nour is being arrested for criminal accusations and not due to his political affiliation.

When Egyptians demand reform, it is always the same answer. The economic reforms have to take the priority and that constitutional reform is a dangerous step now and might lead to instability in the nation. But when the US of A brings up the issue, it is the silence.

The thing that I would hate the most for my country is that the government would eventually end up kneeling down to the pressures of the US of A not to the demand of its people. That would really hurt. Nothing will sadden me more.

God bless your soul Monsieur Asmar! You were right. Benkhaf manikhtishish! Posted by Hello

Is Our Economy Doing Better?

I thought I might attempt to be an economist though it is still my first year in grad school. So, please bear with me!
The last two months witnessed a substantial increase in the value of the Egyptian pound versus the US dollar. The issue has been a real puzzle to me since it made a noticeable feeling of content and optimism in the Egyptian street. Normally, the decrease of value (devaluation) of pound is associated with hard times to come. But, does it work the other way around?
The value of the pound is like any other good or commodity. It is subject to supply and demand. If there is too little supply of the pound relative to the demand for the pound, its value will increase and vice versa. Its value means its value in terms of the foreign currency. For instance, the price of the EGP is currently 0.17 US$. The supply for the pound can decrease because monetary policy of the government, i.e. not printing as much money as the market needs. The demand for the pound can increase if there is too much demand for Egyptian products in the international market, interest rates on saving deposits are high, non-monetary assets (bonds and shares) do not pay a high rate of return, the price level of commodities is increasing, and the aggregate income of the consumers has increased. Alternatively, the demand and supply of the foreign currency can affect the value of our currency.
Is the increase in the value of the EGP an indication of a good economy? It depends on what are the causes that have pushed its price (value) up? When reviewing the recent policies and steps that have been taken by the government, there are few that can affect the value of the pound.
First is the reduction of the tariff barriers against a lot of imported raw materials, semi-finished products, and final products. Unfortunately, this policy acts towards decreasing the value of the EGP, since it will create more demand for the foreign currency.
Second, few banks introduced high interest saving accounts that pay an interest above the average market rate. The interest of some goes up to 12% per year. This indeed created more demand for the EGP and increasing its value.
Thirdly, the implementation of Interbank banking system facilitated the trading of the US currency among banks which eased the strain on the foreign currency.
Fourthly, the signing of the Qualified Industrial Zones agreement might have helped in increasing the prospects of more foreign currency coming up soon in the pipeline.
On the other hand, outside of Egypt, the supply of the US $has increased tremendously. The global supply of the US $ has jumped by 25% during last year. The US administration, according to some analysts, is trying to reduce the value of its trade deficit by reducing the value of its currency.
All these factors contributed to the change in the value of the EGP against the US$. But which one had the strongest effect? When you buy a car, a lot of factors contribute to your final decision: the price of the car, its maintenance cost, the cost of fuel. Let us assume that the price of the car goes down by 15% and the price of the fuel goes up by 40%. Your decision to buy will be more affected by the decrease in the price of the car (though it is smaller) than by the increase of the price of fuel. In my humble opinion, I think the flooding of the US$ is the one that affected the increase in the value of the EGP. The fact that the appreciation comes from external reasons means unfortunately that our economy is still not improving as we might hope. Unemployment still lingers at the 10% level. Inflation is soaring prices and growth in the economy is not up to the levels to sustain a strong economy not to mention a recovering economy. And these last three are THE important indices to look at to evaluate the growth and/or the strength of an economy.

February 3, 2005

Bush On Egypt!

"And the great and proud nation of Egypt, which showed the way toward peace in the Middle East, can now show the way toward democracy in the Middle East." George W. Bush in his State of the Union Address February 2005.

Thanks for the tip dude!


February 2, 2005

It is Elections Year!

Last week, our government started its preparations for the 2005 presidential and parliamentary elections both on the local front and on the international front.

It started by arresting three persons in the Cairo International Book Fair. The accusations were “disturbing the general peace”. They were distributing flyers against the re-election of President Mubarak.

Then, the parliamentary immunity of opposition leader Ayman Nour was stripped away to allow investigations regarding alleged accusations of forging documents that are part of his application for the establishment of a new liberal party. The new party calls for constitutional reform (including the reform of presidential elections), canceling the state of emergency and free elections. The opposition party leader was arrested and detained for 45 days (no bail!). It took over two years and around four rejections from the parties approval committee to approve this new party. It was not even approved by the committee, it was actually established by a court order! During all this time of “studying” the documents of the proposed party, they were never checked if they forged or not. Such checks are only done or “appear” only during elections year.

And the usual and frequent procedure of arresting some members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood group comes as nice reminder to the brothers: “you are still an illegal movement”.

Finally, comes the kissy kissy part! An invitation was extended to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to attend a summit in Sharm El Sheikh. This is the first time since Mr. Sharon was elected in 2001 that he is invited to Egypt. Also, it is his first time to meet President Mubarak. The latter refused to meet Sharon unless real progress has been made in the Middle East peace talks. But, it is elections year! A tiny concession to get the blessings of the US of A won’t hurt. Especially if this cpmes as a preparation to the coming visit of Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice! It might make her job easier. The message is clear President Mubarak is a strong ally and is needed in the Middle East to bridge between the two enemies. He can not step down now! Of course not!

Some voices in Egypt have been shut down. Others got the warning message. The blessing of the US of A is underway. It seems that everything is ready for elections year!

Doesn’t this make you sad, angry and frustrated? Or is it just me?

But, still there is hope. Always! Things can not remain the same for ever. Dawam el hal min al mouhal. There are still voices that believe in change and will fight for it.

I want to return home and join the resistance.