Europe’s Refugee Crisis at Belarus Border

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Syrian Families Reunite in Kurdistan Region

A Weekly Political News Magazine

Digital Banks: The Next Big Thing in Saudi Banking Sector

Issue 1881- December- 03/12/2021

Europe’s Refugee Crisis at Belarus Border

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A Weekly Political News Magazine

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Nagwa Fouad: The Egyptian Belly Dancer Loved by Henry Kissinger www.majalla.com


Editorial This week in our political section, the European Union and two of the countries on its easternmost border to Belarus, Poland and Lithuania, took steps on Wednesday to lock down the border areas. Poland imposed a new law that restricts freedom of movement near a -3kilometer (-1.9mile) stretch of the border after a state of emergency expired at midnight on Tuesday. In Lithuania, the government requested parliament extend an existing state of emergency until January 9 and permit new checks of «suspicious vehicles» on its border with Poland, the primary means by which migrants can get to Germany, the leading destination country for many crossing into the EU. Latvia has also used barbed wire to reinforce its border with Belarus. Meanwhile in Brussels, the European Commission was looking at relaxing asylum rules to speed up the processing of asylum claims and deportations while also relaxing rules on detentions. Maia Otarashvili makes an indepth analysis of the Europe’s refugee crisis at the Belarus border and how Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko is accused of orchestrating the refugee crisis. In the economy section, Motasem Al Felou talks about how digital banks are growing in Saudi Arabia and the Kingdom’s intention to license more digital banks. Al Felou highlights how digital banks come to realize the Saudi Digital Transformation Plan, which represents an integral part of the Kingdom Vision 2030. In the interview section, Mohammad Ali Salih interview Diana Abouali, Director of the Arab American National Museum and asked about the museum’s activities and mission. In the society section, Jiwan Soz tackles how thousands of families were disintegrated due to internal displacement among various Syrian cities or by seeking refuge abroad. They were forced to settle in the countries neighboring Syria or seek refuge in Europe, the United States and other countries. But they are all now seeking to be reunited, and many have been trying to find a way to reach Europe to join their children after they were left alone in these cities where their migration took them or where they were left behind. In the art section, Sara Gamal review the Opera Carmen which is a grand operatic work by French composer Georges Bizet. The show was presented in its theatrical form to the audience of Alexandria in cooperation with the Goethe Institute in Alexandria over two nights of art. Read these articles and more on our website eng.majalla.com. As always, we welcome and value our readers’ feedback and we invite you to take the opportunity to leave your comments on our website.

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A Weekly Political News Magazine

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Editor-in-Chief

Ghassan Charbel The Editor Mostafa El-Dessouki HH Saudi Research and Marketing (UK) Ltd 10th Floor Building 7 Chiswick Business Park 566 Chiswick High Road London W4 5YG Tel : +44 207 831 8181 Fax: +44 207 831 2310

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A Weekly Political News Magazine


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A Weekly Political News Magazine

32 US Is Not Withdrawing from Middle East

Issue 1881- December- 03/12/2021

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American Reports: Khartoum Invaded by the “Marginalized”

28 A Joint European Military

Force: Motives and Ambitions

Celebrating Arab Americans

46 Through Art

52 Lady Gaga Brings Down the ‘House of Gucci’

in Ridley Scott’s Lavish Couture-Clash Drama

Carmen: The Gypsy Love Story 48 through the Genius of Georges Bizet 5

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56 How Bad Will Omicron Be?


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United Arab Emirates’ 50th anniversary A traditional band performs next to a monument at Dubai Expo 2020, on November 27, 2021, celebrating the upcoming United Arab Emirates’ 50th anniversary which falls on December 2. Dubai, , United Arab Emirates )AFP Photos(

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Syrian Culture Days Members of the National Academic Siberian Russian Folk Choir perform during a concert held at the Opera House in Damascus, Syria, on 28 November 2021, on the sidelines of the 9-day festive activities of the Syrian Culture Days that have been launched on Nov. 23 and includes some 170 activities in the artistic, cinematic, theatrical, intellectual and heritage fields )EPA Photos(

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SAU

LEBANON Demonstrators, some of them burning tyres, blocked roads across parts of Lebanon on Monday in protest at the country's economic meltdown, days after the Lebanese pound sank to new lows. Lebanon's economic crisis, which erupted in 2019, has propelled more than three quarters of the population into poverty and the local currency has plummeted by over 90%. The Lebanese pound sank to more than 25,000 against the dollar last week, from a peg in 2019 of 1,500.

EGYPT Egypt on Thursday concluded its second international weapons fair, as one of the Middle East’s largest armies looks to grow its arsenal while moving away from U.S. suppliers. The four-day expo featuring hundreds of exhibitors comes as the country climbs the ranks of the world’s top arms importers. Egyptian authorities did not immediately announce any new weapons deals resulting from the fair. Under Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, the government has overseen a widespread crackdown on dissent while expanding the already significant role the military has played in society for decades.

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Saudi Arab Omicron CO north Africa reported on SPA, quotin health min the person with them. It is the firs the Middle said the pe travelled fro giving furth


UDI ARABIA

bia confirmed its first case of the OVID-19 variant coming from a an country, state news agency SPA n Wednesday. ng a statement from the kingdom's nistry, said authorities had isolated n and people who were in contact . st Omicron variant case reported in e East and North Africa. The ministry erson was a Saudi national who had om a North African country, without her details.

UAE Dubai airline Emirates has postponed the Dec. 6 launch of flights to Tel Aviv until further notice, a company spokesperson said on Sunday after Israel announced it would ban foreigners from entering in to combat the latest coronavirus variant.

QATAR An Afghan Taliban delegation led by Acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi met with officials from various Qatari ministries and discussed a wide range of issues, Taliban officials said on Sunday. The discussions come ahead of this week’s talks between the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan delegation and the US special representative Thomas West. Officials in Doha, who are accompanying Muttaqi, include representatives from the Ministries of Education, Health, Finance, Security, and Da Afghanistan Bank (Central Bank).

IRAQ Iraq released final results on Tuesday from last month's general election, confirming populist Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's movement's victory as the biggest bloc, with 73 seats in the fractious 329-seat house. The Taqaddum Party, which draws support from minority Sunni Muslims, won 37 seats. Former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's State of Law group won 33 seats, and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) secured 31, according to the results cited by state media.

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A WEEK ACROS MEXICO.

U.S. NATO allies share an "unwavering commitment" to Ukraine's sovereignty, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday, hours before he meets Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov amid escalating East-West tensions over Ukraine. Blinken, speaking at the start of talks with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, reiterated Washington's concerns over a build-up of Russian troops on the border that has triggered threats of fresh Western sanctions against Moscow.

Sometime after Hernan Cortes conquered the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan in modern-day Mexico City in 1521, an indigenous household that survived the bloody Spanish invasion arranged an altar including incense and a pot with human ashes. The remains of that elaborate display have been unearthed by archaeologists near what is today Garibaldi Plaza, famed for its revelry and mariachi music, Mexico's culture ministry said on Tuesday. In the wake of the fall of Tenochtitlan, likely within the years of 1521 and 1610, the offering from the family of the Mexica people was made "to bear witness to the ending of a cycle of their lives and of their civilization," the culture ministry said in a statement.

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,

ETHIOPIA. Ethiopian soldiers supported by regional forces have recaptured territory from rebellious Tigrayan fighters, the prime minister's office said on Wednesday, as a resident in one village told Reuters that Tigrayan forces had left his village. The announcement of territorial gains in Amhara follows news over the weekend that government forces had recaptured the town of Chifra in Afar region after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed left the capital Addis Ababa to direct fighting from the frontlines last week.


SS THE WORLD NETHERLANDS. Greeks over 60 who refuse coronavirus vaccinations could be hit with monthly fines of more than one-quarter of their minimum pensions — a get-tough policy that the country’s politicians say will cost votes but save lives. Weekly protests in the Netherlands over the country’s 5 p.m. lockdown and other new restrictions have descended into violence, despite what appears to be overwhelming acceptance of the rules. In Israel, the government on Thursday halted the use of a controversial phone tracking technology to trace possible cases of the new coronavirus variant after a public uproar.

CHINA. China will reduce the time needed for approval of travel by US business executives to no more than 10 days, China's ambassador to the United States, Qin Gang, said on Thursday, promising to turn "an attentive ear" to concerns raised by US businesses. Qin, who arrived in the United States in July, told a dinner hosted by the US-China Business Council that China would also work to make COVID-19 testing more convenient and allow executives to work during quarantine.

INDIA. India's capital New Delhi has ordered the closure of schools and colleges until further notice from Friday after the Supreme Court criticised the city government for reopening educational institutions despite "very poor" air quality.

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Europe’s Refugee Crisis at Belarus Border Lukashenko Accused of Orchestrating Refugee Crisis Maia Otarashvili Alexander Lukashenko, self-proclaimed as “Europe’s last dictator,” continues his ongoing feud with the European Union. Lukashenko has orchestrated an unprecedented influx of refugees at its borders with Lithuania and Poland. The EU leaders are calling his efforts a form of hybrid warfare. In this crisis human beings are being used as pawns in a chess game. But Lukashenko is no stranger to this method – he has a long-standing track record of abusing the rights of his own people.

But this time around it’s not just Lukashenko who is treating human lives as convenient tools of hybrid warfare, European values and commitment to human rights are also being tested as Belarus’s neighbors face the uncomfortable dilemma of a refugee deluge.

2020 Elections: A Turning Point for Lukashenko Lukashenko is the only president that post-Soviet Belarus has known – he has been ruling the country of

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nine million for over 27 years now. He has managed to hold on to power by turning Belarus into a competitive authoritarian regime – he holds sham elections and gives himself landslide wins every time. In 2020 he won the presidential election with a whopping 80% of the votes. Over the recent years prodemocracy opposition forces have become stronger and more outspoken in Belarus, so Lukashenko has had to take tougher measures to quash dissent. This is how the 2020 election turned into a crisis that still has not ended. The opposition forces, led by opposition presidential candidate Ms. Svitlana Tsikhanouskaya, called out Lukashenko on the fraudulent election and staged mass protests in Belarus. The protests lasted for months, demanding Lukashenko’s resignation. For the first time in years the regime used excessive brutal force against the protesters, beating and incarcerating thousands, torturing and killing some. This was the turning point in Lukashenko’s presidency – he had always taken measures to silence dissent, but the atrocities during the 2020 protests were unparalleled in Belarus.

Migrants gather on the BelarusianPolish border in an attempt to cross it at the Bruzgi-Kuznica Bialostocka border crossing, Belarus November 15, 2021. Oksana Manchuk/ BelTA/Handout via REUTERS

The opposition declared Tsikhanouskaya the rightfully elected president of Belarus, but she had to flee the country to avoid incarceration. Many of her team members were arrested and are serving long sentences in prison. The opposition forces garnered significant Western support during the protests, and Tsikhanouskaya found refuge in Lithuania, Belarus’s EU-member neighbor. She has been welcomed by all Western leaders, regularly traveling to Brussels and Washington, and seeking support in her endeavor to unsettle Lukashenko. The brutal crackdown on protesters earned Lukashenko much criticism and ultimately an array of Western sanctions. Amid the near-complete isolation from the West, Lukashenko continues to count on Russian support. Earlier this year Russia and Belarus successfully completed their joint large scale military exercise Zapad 2021, and Belarus received a $500 million loan from Moscow. On the one-year anniversary of the violent crackdown on the opposition, both the European Union and the United States introduced a new set of sanctions against Belarus. U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken explained that the sanctions were a continuation of the U.S. efforts to hold the Lukashenko regime accountable: “On the one-year anniversary of Belarus’s fraudulent presidential election, the United States gov-

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As Belarus’s relationship continued to sour with Europe, Lukashenko continued to lash out. In May 2021 he responded to the threat of further sanctions by saying “We stopped drugs and migrants. ernment has taken decisive action against forty-four individuals and entities in order to hold Aleksandr Lukashenko and his regime to account for its continued, violent repression of Belarusians inside and outside the country. These steps are a further consequence to the Belarusian authorities’ continued flagrant disregard for human rights and Belarus’s failure to comply with its obligations under international human rights law. … Lukashenka has sought to cement his hold on power at the expense of the Belarusian people. Over 600 political prisoners are unjustly detained. Independent media outlets have been raided and shuttered, and Belarusian authorities are attempting to silence NGOs and vital members of civil society. Moreover, this repression does not occur solely within Belarus’s borders, as Belarusians abroad also face intimidation.”

Orchestrating the Refugee Crisis As Belarus’s relationship continued to sour with Europe, Lukashenko continued to lash out. In May 2021 he responded to the threat of further sanctions by saying “We stopped drugs and migrants. Now you will eat them and catch them yourselves.” Shortly after, Belarus’s EU-member neighbors Lithuania and Poland started reporting an upsurge in the number of migrants crossing its border from Belarus. By the end of August, the Lithuanian government said it had seen over 4,000 refugees cross the border, almost 50 times as many as the year before. Despite the large numbers of refugees flooding the borders of Lithuania, the country has declared a state of emergency and refused asylum to essentially all of them. Thousands of refugees also attempted to cross the bor-


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der into Poland. In September, Poland also declared a state of emergency at the border, banning all media access and most charity organizations from the territory. In mid-November the situation became particularly turbulent as the Polish security forces fired water cannons and tear gas at the migrants trying to cross the border. In November, Poland saw nearly 5,000 attempted border crossings. At the moment it is estimated that there are up to 2,000 migrants and refugees at the border with Poland. The refugees, mostly women and children, are predominantly Kurds from Iraq, but also Syrians, Iranians, Afghans, Yemenis, Cameroonians and others. They live in makeshift camps on the

European leaders have blamed Lukashenko for orchestrating the refugee crisis by bringing the refugees into Belarus with a promise to help them cross into the EU via the borders with Poland and Lithuania.

Belarusian side of the border, braving the snow and freezing temperatures. European leaders have blamed Lukashenko for orchestrating the refugee crisis by bringing the refugees into Belarus with a promise to help them cross into the EU via the borders with Poland and Lithuania. With this effort Lukashenko has struck a nerve. Europe has struggled for years managing the waves of refugees, sparking extreme anti-refugee rhetoric in many of the countries, including in Poland and Hungary where Christian conservatism and xenophobia have made a sweeping comeback. In 2015 the EU took in millions of refugees from the Middle East, but it nearly tore the Union apart as many of the member countries, notably Poland and Hungary, wanted nothing to do with the refugees. Now the rhetoric coming out of the EU is very different. The leaders have said “this is a hybrid attack, not a migration crisis,” lending their full support to Poland as it tightens up border security to keep the frustrated refugees out. The Polish authorities have warned that if this crisis turns into a clash between Poland and Belarus, there will be greater security repercussions – the conflict would likely involve Russia and NATO as Poland is a member of NATO and Belarus has an array of security and economic alliance treaties with Russia.

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Migrants gather in a camp near the Belarusian-Polish border as they attempt to cross it in the Grodno region, Belarus November 10, 2021. Leonid Scheglov/BelTA/ Handout via REUTERS


Polish soldiers and police watch migrants at the Poland/Belarus border near Kuznica, Poland, in this photograph released by the Territorial Defence Forces, November 12, 2021. Irek Dorozanski/ DWOT/Handout via REUTERS

In November, the European Union approved another round of sanctions targeting: more than two dozen Belarusian officials; Syrian airline Cham Wings for having transported migrants to Belarus; the Hotel Minsk in the Belarus capital for housing migrants; and, possibly Minsk airport, according to E.U. officials. On November 28th the EU and NATO leaders met in Vilnius to discuss the security challenges posed by Belarus. During the press conference, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg insisted that: “The Lukashenko regime is exploiting vulnerable people to put pressure on neighboring countries. This is inhumane and cynical. … No NATO Ally stands alone. All Allies have expressed solidarity with Lithuania. And we have provided practical help. … NATO continues to deliver strong deterrence and defense. Our battlegroup in Lithuania, and the others in Estonia, Latvia and Poland help to deter any aggression.” Lukashenko recently visited the migrant camps, telling the refugees he would not force them to go home: “My task is to help you, people in trouble. In no case will we detain you, tie your hands, load you on airplanes and send you home if you don’t want that. We will work together with you on your dream.” Neither side plans to compromise, but the thousands

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The Polish authorities have warned that if this crisis turns into a clash between Poland and Belarus, there will be greater security repercussions – the conflict would likely involve Russia and NATO. of refugees who are stuck in freezing temperatures continue to wait, surviving only with limited aid. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and UNHCR have been granted limited access to the refugee camps and have provided aid through Belarus Red Cross. They estimate that there are approximately 7,000 refugees in Belarus at this time (2,000 at the border with Poland), and report that 1,000 of the refugees have been offered repatriation by the Iraq government. The IOM hopes to help facilitate more voluntary returns to Iraq over the coming weeks, but not all refugees hail from Iraq and most have not expressed a desire to leave.


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Syrian Families Reunite in Kurdistan Region Lebanese Visa Restrictions Put Extra Burdens on Syrians By Jiwan Soz - Beirut We often hear, read or watch in the news how the Syrian war has destroyed the country’s infrastructure, but behind these scenes of destruction lie

stories of thousands of families who were disintegrated due to internal displacement among various Syrian cities or by seeking refuge abroad. They were forced to settle in the countries neighboring Syria or seek refuge in Europe, the United States

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Many refugees have been trying to find a way to reach Europe to join their children after they were left alone in Beirut. Others ask about the possibility of returning to Syria and wonder whether it is a good decision. he was unable to visit us in Lebanon because Beirut has repeatedly refused to grant him a visa,” said a Syrian man in his late 50s. He said his son has a travel document but the Lebanese government refuses to grant visas to Syrians who possess only travel documents, so he decided to join his son. “My son started working in 2017 after he sought asylum. He learned the German language, rented a house and got married, which allows him to apply for his parents to visit,” the man added, stressing that he wants to get to know his first grandson. Syrian Refugees in Germany. (DPA/S. Kahnert)

and other countries. In the Lebanese capital of Beirut where thousands of Syrian families live, almost all families have at least one member living abroad, either in Syria or in Europe. They all seek to be reunited, and many have been trying to find a way to reach Europe to join their children after they were left alone in this city. Others ask about the possibility of returning to Syria and wonder whether it is a good decision.

The Syrian man has applied for a visa to Germany, and the European office is scheduled to respond to his request about two weeks after receiving the application and all the required papers. “I don’t know if they will grant my request,” he said, “but my wife and I decided to give it a try and we have to wait for now.”

They have another option to meet their son, wife, and baby, but they will put it on hold for Dozens of Syrians gather daily near the Mar- the present. In recent years, Erbil, the capital tyrs’ Square in Beirut to apply for a visa to Eu- of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, has become the rope at an office that grants visas under strict most accessible city for Syrian nationals. It ofrequirements. Most of those interviewed by the fers a low cost travel visa within a few days. Majalla correspondent there said that “video Therefore, it has become a major destination calls are no longer useful.” for Syrian family members who have not met “I want to see my son. He traveled in 2015 to for years. Germany and already found asylum there, but

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The Majalla spoke to the owners of two air- ports in Aleppo, Damascus and sometimes lines, who confirmed that “the financial crisis Beirut. in Lebanon has increasingly introduced Syrians to Erbil.” “Syrians residing in Europe can request visas to Erbil from European travel agencies for less “Some Syrians who live in Beirut have traveled than 100 euros,” they noted. there in search of job opportunities, while many Syrians living in Europe ask us to provide visas Because obtaining these visas is easy, Erbil has for their relatives residing in Syria,” they said. become a destination for disintegrated families to meet, they affirmed. “We often grant travel visas through our offices in Damascus and Aleppo for Syrians, most The Majalla also spoke to a young Syrian man of whom are elderly and want to meet their who lives in the Netherlands and said he had children residing in Europe,” they explained, worked in Erbil for years before settling in adding that they then travel to Erbil from air- Amsterdam in 2015.

A young Syrian woman who lives in Syria said she traveled to Erbil to finally reunite with her fiancé, who currently resides in Germany.

“I thought a lot about meeting my family after years of being separated,” he told the Majalla, yet he was not able to obtain a visa to enter Lebanon because he holds a travel document as per his asylum in the Netherlands. “Therefore, the best option was for us all to travel to Erbil,” he said. “I knew travel agencies in Erbil that would provide visas for me and my parents. Then I booked the airline tickets,” he added, noting that the whole trip cost him only $3,000,

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Syrian refugees in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq load their luggage on to a boat on the Tigris River to return home to their wartorn country. (Courtesy of UNHCR/R. Hussein Rasheed)


Syrian refugees in Ireland reunite with their daughter and grandson in Dublin after they arrived from Damascus. (Courtesy of Irish Times/Dara Mac Donaill)

and he spent two weeks with his parents in the Kurdish capital.

pointment from the German consulate in Erbil to join her spouse.

This young Syrian is not the only one to arrive in Erbil to meet with his family members. Many others did so, especially after Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey put strict conditions for Syrians to obtain visas.

Despite the lack of clear statistics on the number of Syrians who visit Erbil to meet their families or get married, travelers from Europe and Syria told the Majalla that “most of the planes heading to Erbil were almost always full of Syrian passengers.”

Erbil has also become a destination for Syrians to get married. In past years, Beirut was the main destination, yet the conditions set by the Lebanese government to obtain a visa have reduced the number of Syrians wishing to get married there. In addition to that, the government has recently required that every Syrian wishing to enter its territory through the land crossings must have $2,000 in his possession. A young Syrian woman who lives in Syria said she traveled to Erbil to finally reunite with her fiancé, who currently resides in Germany. “We got married in Erbil, and then my fiancé translated the marriage contract and submitted it to the German authorities,” she told the Majalla, adding that she is now waiting for an ap-

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Erbil is not the only destination for Syrians to reunite. Some Syrians can visit Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey to meet their families. However, their numbers are fewer compared to those who travel to Erbil, the Majalla learned from a source in an Istanbul-based Syrian airline. “We are currently working to grant Turkish visas to holders of Syrian citizenship. Nevertheless, the high demand for visas to Erbil led to our cooperation with partners in the city to provide visas for those wishing to pay it a visit,” the airline owner told the Majalla. The number of Syrian refugees in the Kurdistan Region is estimated at more than 250,000, and many of their family members in Syria and several European countries visit them every now and then.


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American Reports: Khartoum Invaded by the “Marginalized” Humanitarian crisis in Sudanese countryside comes to capital By Majalla staff Recent reports in the US about the exploding African population, and future estimates of Africans becoming a third of the world population by 2100, mentioned the Sudanese capital Khartoum as one of the African capitals that was already exploding with people. And particularly the “muhammasheen” (the marginalized) migrating from regions of

war and violence in Darfur, Kordofan and the Blue Nile. The United Nations’ Humanitarian Response wrote: “Al Salaama is located about seven kilometers south of Khartoum. It includes Al-Salama and Soba Aradi. They are surrounded by Saira to the west, Al-Awda to the East, Al-Azhari to the North. Al-Madinah Al-Khayria is part of the Al-Azhari, and Jebel Aulia Localities. The majority of

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the population are from Darfur and South Kordofan.” Max Bearak, of the Washington Post, wrote that the Soba neighborhood of Khartoum, home mainly to people who fled the conflict in Darfur, is considered a “squatters camp” by Sudan’s government and has not been connected to water or power lines. Some camps were named in ways that nodded to displacement: “Jabarona” (We were forced); or “Taradona” (They threw us), while others were named for their most visible characteristics, like “Ishash” (Shanty). He added: “Soba, named after an ancient city situated, like Khartoum, at the confluence of the Blue and White Nile rivers, became what the government calls a “squatters camp,” mostly for Darfuris. Others like it ring the city in what is sometimes pejoratively called the “Black Belt,” because its inhabitants hail from conflict zones in Darfur, Kordofan and what is now South Sudan, where people’s skin tends to be darker.” Recent reports in the US about the exploding African population mentioned the Sudanese capital Khartoum as one of the African capitals that was already exploding with people. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/File Photo

The World Population Review said that Khartoum’s population increased annually by about two percent which is almost double since 2000, and is now about six million people. Elisabetta Brumat, from the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugee, wrote: “It is believed that in the poorest IDP (Internally Displaced Population) and squatter areas of the capital, humanitarian indicators may be worse than in the serviced IDP camps of Darfur … Humanitarian assistance, however, seems increasingly inadequate in providing definitive responses to the challenges of urban displacement and poverty in Khartoum.” Bearak added: “For half a century now, displacement by catastrophe has been the main driver of growth in Khartoum. This is the biggest of a downtrodden club of African cities where people have brought their lives on donkey carts or in rickety trucks.” Several recent studies projected that by the

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The World Population Review said that Khartoum’s population increased annually by about two percent which is almost double since 2000, and is now about six million people. end of this century, Africa will be the only continent experiencing population growth. Thirteen of the world’s 20 biggest urban areas will be in Africa — up from just two today — as will more than a third of the world’s population. The United Nations estimates that a quarter of Khartoum’s population was displaced by conflict alone — around 1.5 million people, but another report said that the real proportion was well above half of the city’s population of 6 million. Bearak said that “Unstable states like Sudan crumble first in their hinterlands, and in those moments of crisis, cities are beacons of safety, places for people to regroup, build new identities and forge political movements — even revolutions — that aim to bring peace back to places they had to abandon.” He added that “the sand-colored city of Khartoum rises like a mirage. A caravan heading inward from its edge will pass scenes that repeat mile after mile like a plaintive folk song: square mud-brick compounds stretching to the horizon, the expanse broken every so often by slightly taller, mostly unfinished skeletons of iron and concrete, halfway between rubble and a dream fulfilled.” In 2011, one of many wars ended with the secession of South Sudan. Khartoum, which remained Sudan’s capital, and Juba, capital


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of the newly created South Sudan, both became magnets for the displaced. In Darfur, land disputes between Arabicspeaking nomadic and non-Arab agrarian tribes stretch back decades. In 2003, wider conflict erupted and Sudan’s government backed the nomadic groups in a campaign of ethnic cleansing. The conflict still simmers and causes mass dis-

Unstable states like Sudan crumble first in their hinterlands, and in those moments of crisis, cities are beacons of safety, places for people to regroup, build new identities and forge political movements - even revolutions that aim to bring peace back to places they had to abandon.

placement to this day. A recent report by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said: “In 2020, the humanitarian situation in Sudan continued to be exacerbated by socio-political and economic upheaval. This unpredictable context saw a sustained influx of refugees primarily from South Sudan–and later in the year from Ethiopia’s Tigray region–cross the border in search of safety and protection.” The report added: “By the end of the year, the country was host to more than 3.6 million displaced people, of which some 1 million were refugees and 2.5 million IDPs (Internally Displaced Population). Refugees originated from the Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan, the Syrian Arab Republic and Yemen.” Bearak said: “Like many African countries, Sudan was awkwardly drawn onto the world map by European colonialists … A new elite, trained in suppression and exploitation, was left in charge. It was a historical how-to in creating conflict-prone states.”

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FILE PHOTO: Sudanese residents shop in a bazaar in Khartoum, Sudan, May 4, 2019. REUTERS/Umit Bektas/File Photo



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Lebanon in the Balance

By: Tarek Heggy

In addition, another fact that worsens the situation of the Lebanese Christians is that the population growth of the Shiite Lebanese, the majority of who completely follow the Iranian regime, is more than twice the rate of the population growth of the Christian Lebanese

I was asked about Lebanon. The question was as follows: How do you assess the political situation in the Lebanon, which I know you love? I love the Maronite Lebanon, I clearly answered. It (Lebanon) reflects my love for the old Egypt, the Cosmopolitan Egypt, i.e. the Mediterranean Egypt, of which only its memory and spectre remain in the 70 to 90-year old Egyptian movies. I am an Egyptian man who has devoted his intellectual, mental and cultural life to promoting the values of modernity and contemporaneity, with much effort put in in a series of books, articles, dialogues and lectures to confront calls for the cultural “past” and “fundamentalism.” This was the reason behind my fondness for Lebanon since the 1960s. The country that is more modern and incorporates the cultures of the Mediterranean. This Lebanon, too, suffered as much as “Egypt did 70 years ago” but in a different level and manner. I can now give you my assessment of Lebanon’s current political situation and add my “vision” for the future of the political life in this unique country compared to the other Arabic-speaking countries. The current situation in Lebanon is the result of the following: First, a history of sectarianism that the Lebanese have not been able to overcome since September 1920, when General Henri Gouraud declared the state of Lebanon. Second, the Iranian demon represented by “Hezbollah,” which did not exist prior to the outbreak of the Lebanese civil war in 1975. Third, the situation in the vicinity since 1979, mainly represented by the policies of Syria, Iran, Israel, the Sunni/Shiite conflict and others. Unless the elements inside and outside Lebanon change, the current situation will certainly remain as it is. These elements are namely Iran’s influence in the region and in Lebanon, prioritizing the Lebanese citizenship over sectarianism and the external pressures on Lebanon. I guess the current situation in Lebanon and the external influences on the country will not witness major changes anytime soon. Therefore, I think that the life conditions of the Lebanese Christians will most likely become worse and eventually may lead them to establish their independence in one way or another. In addition, another fact that worsens the situation of the Lebanese Christians is that the population growth of the Shiite Lebanese, the majority of who completely follow the Iranian regime, is more than twice the rate of the population growth of the Christian Lebanese. Finally, Arabic-speaking societies have witnessed throughout the past 50 years a religious obsession phenomenon, which led to a decrease in the number of Christians in these societies and an increased pressure on the remaining Christians. It came in line with the growing societal divisions that amounted to civil wars in some Arab countries. Amid this incendiary situation comes Lebanon and its unsolvable dilemmas, as well as the Christian Lebanese.

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A Joint European Military Force: Motives and Ambitions Why Does the European Union Seek to Establish Unified Military Force?

By Jassim Mohamad - Bonn Voices come from within the countries of Europe. The European Union calls for the need to find a rapidintervention military force that can intervene militarily in areas of regional and international conflict in order to

support European policy decisions. The plan has the support of fourteen member states and aims to enhance the military capabilities of the European Union, as part of a review of its comprehensive strategy that will be agreed upon in 2022. The demands for the formation of a united European army were increased as part of Europe’s national ambitions to

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secure its national security in the wake of Britain’s exit from the European Union, and in the wake of the Trump administration’s threats to reduce protection in the event that European countries did not escalate their military spending.

The Idea of a European Army The idea of a European army was first discussed in 1950. It was proposed by France and would have consisted of the «Inner Six» countries (Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and West Germany at that time), in order to strengthen defense against the Soviet threat without directly rearming Germany in the wake of World War II. In 1952 the Treaty establishing the European Defense Community was signed but not ratified by the member states. Europe was worried about President Joe Biden’s precipitous withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan and there were renewed calls for an EU military force. But while proponents of “strategic autonomy” say the fall of Kabul should serve as a wake-up call, others do not see it as an existential threat and are content to remain as junior partners to US military might.

Belgian army Special Forces are seen during the Black Blade military exercise involving several European Union countries and organised by the European Defence Agency at Florennes airbase, Belgium November 2016 ,30. Credit: Reuters

European countries had no option but to pull out of Afghanistan along with the US – despite their desire for Western troops to stay and stop the country falling into the Taliban’s hands. Washington’s NATO allies depended on US logistics and aerial support for their military engagement in Afghanistan – and then for the safe evacuation of their citizens. Ministers from France, Germany, Belgium, Britain, Denmark, the Netherlands, Estonia, Spain and Portugal signed a letter of intent in Luxembourg on 25th June 2018. The initiative is backed by the UK which is allowed to participate after even after Brexit. Nine EU member states have agreed to establish a European military force for rapid deployment in times of crisis, an initiative which has won the backing of the UK as it seeks to maintain defense ties after Brexit. Spearheaded by the French president, Emmanuel Macron, the joint enterprise will allow national armed forces across Europe to coordinate and react swiftly together.

European Self-defense Defense is a specific capability and is at the heart of Member States’ national sovereignty. For the majority of EU Member States, European defense mainly consists of two important layers: Member States’ own self-defense capability and the collective defense offered by NATO. The EU treaty highlights the Common Security and Defense

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The demands for the formation of a united European army were increased as part of Europe’s national ambitions to secure its national security in the wake of Britain’s exit from the European Union. Policy (CSDP)’s unique nature, enshrining the Member States’ leading role and containing several limitations on the EU’s action in this area. EU foreign and defense ministers were debating the plan on 16th November 2021 in Brussels, aiming to settle on a final document by March next year for Joint Military Force. The European Union is considering a joint military force of up to 5,000 troops by 2025 to intervene in a range of crises without relying on the United States, according to a draft plan. The «EU Rapid Deployment Capacity» would be made up of land, sea and air components that could be swapped in and out of any standing force, depending on the crisis, according to the confidential -28page document dated Nov. 9.

The EU and NATO The EU and NATO complement rather than compete with each other. In cases where NATO as a whole is not engaged, the EU is to be able to launch and conduct its own military operations. The alliance›s European members should work more closely together to coordinate a joint armaments, training and leadership policy. For the moment, the armies of NATO›s EU members are still too inefficient, expensive and bureaucratic, as well as far too prone to working on their own instead of together. The Force is to “respond to imminent threats or quickly react to a crisis situation, for example, a rescue and evacuation mission or a stabilization operation in a hostile environment.” Command and control would lie with preidentified national operational headquarters or a body within the EU’s Military Staff (EUMS). The European army is the term for a hypothetical army of the European Union which would supersede the Common Security and Defense Policy and would go beyond the


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proposed European Defense Union. Currently, there is no such army, and defense is a matter for the member states.

Full Range of Military Crisis-management Tasks Europe would commit to establishing an EU Intervention Force of about 5,000 troops by 2025 to respond to the full range of military crisis-management tasks, for example a rescue and evacuation mission or a stabilization operation in a hostile environment. Member states have been struggling to affirm their common security and defense capabilities, an objective made more pressing by the chaotic U.S.led withdrawal from Afghanistan, and a new U.S.-led defense pact with Australia that saw France lose a massive submarine contract. Leaders are due to discuss the blueprint in December, and endorse a final version in March 2022. French President Emmanuel Macron has made developing the European Federation “bloc’s” strategic autonomy in defense a priority.

Project Proposals According to a BBC report, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on 15th September 2021, that the EU should seek to beef up its military capabilities to confront security threats and global crises. She told the European Parliament she believed EU military forces would be «part of the solution.» The Commission President said the EU had to provide greater stability in its own neighbourhood and elsewhere, taking part in missions that did not include NATO and the UN. It also had to share intelligence and become a leader in cyber-security. What had held the EU back until now was «not just a shortfall of capacity - it is the lack of political will», she explained. You can have the most advanced forces in the world - but if you are never prepared to use them, of what use are they?» she

There are several factors hindering the building of a European army, namely, the lack of unified military concepts as well as the lack of a military force for rapid intervention and a common command.

told the Strasbourg parliament on 15th September 2021. The project proposals for the Connecting Europe Facility are a concrete example, with a budget of EUR 330 million, as well as a decision to include a program for the development of a digital system for the secure and quick exchange of information related to military mobility. This is a part of the 2021 annual work agenda of the European Defense Fund and would cost EUR 50 million.

EU Rapid Reaction after West›s Failure in Afghanistan The EU rapid reaction force would not have prevented the West›s failure in Afghanistan, says DW›s Bernd Riegert. He suggests that EU member states concentrate on strengthening their presence in NATO. In the wake of the Afghanistan disaster, various EU defense and foreign ministers are once again calling for more military autonomy and a common intervention force. For over 20 years, there

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Members of the EU-Battlegroup wait for Austrian Defence Minister Norbert Darabos as he visits their barracks in Mautern about 60 kilometres (38miles) west of Vienna May 2012 ,11. Credit: Reuters


The Force is to “respond to imminent threats or quickly react to a crisis situation, for example, a rescue and evacuation mission or a stabilization operation in a hostile environment.” the importance of maintaining the bloc›s influence in an interdependent world. «European influence will be our greatest challenge in the coming years, and Afghanistan has offered a stark demonstration,» he said.

Conclusion The idea of establishing a European army may have come about because of the unwillingness and inability of European countries to meet Washington’s demands to increase funding for NATO bases and many of its units and foreign countries of Europe. It is likely that the German and French army will form the backbone of the European Union countries in the wake of Britain›s exit.

has been talk of an EU force that would be able to act without US support, possibly around the world. But it still does not exist: First, because there is a lack of political will; and secondly, because it would be expensive and complicated to set up in military terms. On paper, the bloc does have a common defense policy, but the European Defense Agency (EDA) is one that largely busies itself with niche projects and feasibility studies.

EU Defense Autonomy EU Council President Charles Michel said on 1st September 2021, that the European Union needs to pursue decisionmaking autonomy in the wake of the chaotic evacuations from Afghanistan that ended last week. «In my view, we do not need another such geopolitical event to grasp that the EU must strive for greater decision-making autonomy and greater capacity for action in the world,» he told the Bled Strategic Forum in Slovenia. Looking to the future of the EU›s role in the world, the EU Council President discussed

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There are several factors hindering the building of a European army, namely, the lack of unified military concepts as well as the lack of a military force for rapid intervention and a common command. Additionally, the Baltic states and other Eastern European countries do not want to replace the Atlantic umbrella with European protection. The main problem, as explained by political scientist Jan Tekao of the German Marshall Fund, is a situation of mistrust: the French and Germans suffer from a complete distrust of each other, the Italians do not trust either of them, and the Germans lack confidence even in themselves. Warsaw does not trust Berlin, Bucharest does not trust Budapest, the people of the Balkans do not trust anyone at all, and so on. The European Union countries aspired to form a European army separate from NATO or even in parallel with it until the completion of the separation, but with the European Union losing one of the 10 most important militarily countries in the world, and only France coming within this classification, some suggest that these dreams are will be fading out. Some countries of the Union, such as Iceland and Luxembourg, have a limited or almost non-existent army.


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US Is Not Withdrawing from Middle East The Shadow War with Iran Dalia Dassa Kaye The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has made no secret of its desire to extricate the United States from the Middle East. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in an interview before taking office, said that he envisioned a Biden presidency would do “less not more” in the region. A senior U.S. official likewise said that the Obama administration didn’t follow through on its so-called pivot to Asia, but “this time we are.” The United States’ “strategic competition” with China currently dominates American foreign policy discussion, representing bipartisan consensus in an otherwise divided Washington. But for all the talk about withdrawing from the Middle East and genuine regional anxiety about U.S. abandonment in the aftermath of Afghanistan, the reality on the ground suggests

otherwise: Washington still maintains a sprawling network of military bases and has proved willing to embrace even its most unsavory partners in the name of bolstering regional security. What’s more, regional dynamics are likely to lead to further instability and violence—fueling a demand for a continued American presence. To be sure, the United States is no longer the only global player in the Middle East. Chinese economic and technology investments and Russia’s military influence have grown over the past decade. In that sense, the American moment is over. And yet, much as Americans may like to be done with the Middle East, the Middle East is not done with the United States. American withdrawal is not only a myth, it is preventing an important debate in Washington about how the United States can adjust its policies to improve the lives of the region’s citizens and

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contribute to a more just political order in the Middle East.

BUSINESS AS USUAL

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken with his Israeli and Emirati counterparts, Washington D.C., October 2021

For all the fears in Arab capitals of declining American commitment to the Middle East, U.S. military engagement shows more continuity than commonly acknowledged. Despite a promise to review a $23 billion arms sale to the United Arab Emirates with a greater emphasis on human rights, the Biden administration decided to move ahead with the sale. Biden’s “recalibration” of relations with Saudi Arabia has also not led to major policy change: Saudi Defense Minister Khalid bin Salman, brother of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, received high-level meetings with top U.S. officials during a visit to Washingtonin July . National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan also met directly with the crown prince in Riyadh in September 2021. The administration subsequently pushed forward a new $650 million arms sale to Saudi Arabia. This does not look like an administration turning its back on traditional U.S. partners or “putting human rights at the center” of its foreign policy. This pattern extends beyond the United States’ wealthy partners in the Gulf: although the Biden team chose to temporarily withhold $130 million in military aid to Egypt, its decision fell short of human rights organizations’ expectations that the administration would uphold congressional legislation conditioning $300 million in military aid on concrete progress on rule of law and reform measures. With $1.3 billion granted annually through the U.S. Foreign Military Financing program, Egypt remains among the top three recipients of American military aid globally, despite President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s crackdown on political opposition and civil society. The Biden administration did signal a realignment of its military posture by announcing a reduction of its antimissile systems in the region as it refocused on the challenge posed by Russia and China. The removal of these systems from Saudi Arabia in September, even as the Houthis continued to launch missile attacks on Saudi territory from Yemen, reinforced Riyadh’s sense of abandonment by the United States. The Department of Defense is also currently engaged in a major global force posture review, which will likely impact the U.S. military footprint in the Middle East as the United States prioritizes threats in the Indo-Pacific. But it remains doubtful that a radical reduction of tens of thousands of U.S. troops is on the horizon—or that Washington is prepared to ignore the perceived security needs of its major regional partners.

BASE OF SUPPORT The strategic case for reducing the American presence in the Middle East is straightforward. In addition to the need to shift resources to Asia given changing geostrategic conditions, the United States’ reliance on oil from the Middle East has de-

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The United States’ “strategic competition” with China currently dominates American foreign policy discussion, representing bipartisan consensus in an otherwise divided Washington. creased significantly. There has also been increased scrutiny on whether large bases are effective for counterterrorism missions and whether these bases may provoke further attacks from Iran rather than deter them. Some analysts argue the United States should bring all troops home, while others argue for a more dispersed regional posture utilizing smaller bases. This would make the United States less reliant on large operating bases such as Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar or Camp Arifjan in Kuwait, which may become more vulnerable to Iranian attacks as Tehran’s missile and drone strike capabilities advance. These arguments are compelling. But political considerations, bureaucratic inertia, the United States’ continued vulnerability to global oil market shocks, and the economic interests of the U.S. defense industry make a swift reversal unlikely—regardless of the strategic logic. The United States’ Gulf partners want American forces to stay, viewing the bases as a sign of Washington’s political commitment to their security. And after Qatar and other Gulf states played such an important role in the airlift of Afghans following the American withdrawal from the country, is the Biden administration likely to close down Al Udeid? A drawdown may be possible, but complete closure is a stretch. Continued bipartisan focus on Iran will also work in favor of a considerable American military presence. Joint maritime security exercises, which are conducted with an eye toward containing Iran, now include the United States, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain. It is also unclear whether the large U.S. bases are as exposed to Iranian attacks as some fear: Qatar and Kuwait, countries that host thousands of U.S. personnel, maintain friendlier relations with Tehran and may not be as vulnerable to Iranian attacks on U.S.forces within their countries. The benefits of reducing the American presence in the region therefore may be outweighed by the political costs of alienating Gulf partners. The rotation of missile defense systems and aircraft carriers out of the Middle East is one sign of the reduced U.S. presence in the region and will likely become more frequent as resources shift to Asia. Regional partners won’t like that, but they will learn to live with it. But shutting down massive military infrastructure is another matter entirely. Iran sees the continued U.S. military presence in the region as both a threat to its interests and a convenient target. As


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Tehran seeks to bolster its deterrence, it may prefer to strike at small numbers of American forces in conflict zones rather than the large U.S.bases in the Gulf. U.S. and Israeli officials blamed Iran for launching a drone attack on the al-Tanf American base in Syria in October, possibly as retaliation for Israeli airstrikes in Syria. The U.S. presence in Iraq has also dwindled to just several thousand troops, which remain exposed to attacks by Iranbacked militias. The hostility between the United States and Iran is now so deeply rooted within both countries’ establishments—particularly as hard-liners have consolidated control in Tehran—that attempts to reset the relationship are unlikely in the coming years. The Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the nuclear deal and adopt a “maximum pressure” policy designed to isolate Iran diplomatically and economically made Iran more belligerent, not less. Following the United States’ assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani in January 2020, the two countries engaged in direct military conflict for the first time since the 1980s. Even if American policymakers manage to avoid a full-scale war with Iran and contain its nuclear ambitions, they will still likely find themselves in a low-grade conflict for regional influence with Tehran. Though Iran initially maintained its compliance with the nuclear accord following the American withdrawal, it has significantly expanded its program over the last year. It has increased its enrichment of uranium well beyond the constraints of the agreement, moving it closer to weapons-grade levels. Research and development of advanced centrifuges is progressing. Iran’s breakout time, or the time needed to produce enough enriched material to build a nuclear weapon, has shortened to months as opposed to a year under the constraints of the nuclear agreement. Nuclear inspectors are no longer gaining the access required by the agreement. All of these steps have introduced another source of tension in Iran’s relationships with the United States and the

The hostility between the United States and Iran is now so deeply rooted within both countries’ establishments - particularly as hard-liners have consolidated control in Tehran - that attempts to reset the relationship are unlikely in the coming years.

international community. It is also no longer clear whether the Iranians are as eager to revive the deal as they once were. Iranian officials were in no hurry to return to talks in Vienna to restore the deal after the election of Ebrahim Raisi as president in June 2021. They have finally agreed to return to negotiations in late November 2021, but it is not clear that the Biden administration will have the political bandwidth to deliver on the sanctions relief necessary to restore the agreement or that Iran will agree to the required nuclear rollbacks. And it is nearly certain that Israel, toward which the Biden administration has been solicitous, will not support concessions to Iran. U.S. officials are already in discussions with Israeli counterparts about a “Plan B” should the talks fail. This strategy would include more economic pressure and possibly military options. It is unclear how such “back to the future” policies will bring about a new nuclear deal, particularly without the type of international support that was possible before the 2015 agreement. It is difficult to imagine China signing on to renewed economic pressure against Iran, in light of rising tensions between Beijing and Washington. Indeed, China recently expressed more sympathetic positions on Iran’s nuclear enrichment rights following the United States’ and United Kingdom’s decision to sell nuclear submarines to Australia, which Beijing considers a proliferation risk. What may be more likely in the event of a failure to revive the nuclear accord is a repeat of Iran’s response to the Trump administration’s maximum pressure policies: an acceleration of military strikes across the region, including on U.S. forces. If the deal collapses, it will be even harder for the United States to reduce its presence in the Middle East and shift its focus elsewhere. The Israelis certainly would not put Iran on the back burner, nearly guaranteeing continued escalation. Jerusalem’s “shadow war” with Iran has already expanded considerably: It has moved beyond the Syrian theater, where Israel regularly strikes Iran-aligned targets, to an active maritime confrontation. It has also continued its assassination campaign targeting Iran’s top nuclear scientists and its direct attacks on Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, including an explosion at Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility in April 2021 just as diplomacy in Vienna began. Cyberwarfare between Israel and Iran has even extended to civilian targets. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has so far avoided a public spat with Washingtonover the Iran file. But although his style may differ from the confrontational approach of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his policies do not appear markedly different. Bennett has maintained Israel’s covert military campaign against Iran’s nuclear program and spoken of a “death by a thousand cuts” strategy toward Tehran. Other Israeli leaders have made public statements reasserting Israel’s right to defend itself against Iran, which is widely understood as Israel preserving its military options. Israel is not a treaty ally of the United States,

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Sources: Congressional Research Service, Washington Post, Reuters.

but the American political commitment to Israel’s security is so deep that it would be difficult for Washington to stay on the sidelines in the event of a full-blown Iranian-Israeli conflict. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict also continues to simmer, even if the Palestinian issue is a lower priority for the region and for Washington. Policymakers may prefer improving the economic conditions of Palestinians over pressing the Israelis on core issues such as settlement expansion. The outbreak of violence in the Gaza Strip in May demonstrated that the United States can work behind the scenes to contain the conflict, but it can’t ignore it. Normalization between Israel and Arab states is a welcome regional development, but it can’t replace a settlement of the parties actually at war.

BECOMING PART OF THE SOLUTION With all these demands, the United States is not going to abandon the Middle East. In fact, it may be facing a different problem—not that it is leaving but that it is staying in all the wrong ways. The Biden administration appears to be doubling down on military commitments to reassure its partners, who remain skeptical about the trajectory of its foreign policy. The arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are proof that Washington still prioritizes its military partnerships in the region. But these efforts, particularly when not balanced with engagement on human security and governance challenges, can

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fuel regional conflicts and repression. (The United States currently invests as much annually in military assistance to Egypt as it does in economic development assistance for the entire region.) This is a recipe for perpetual crisis, which will force the United States to take costly steps to contain new forms of extremism and violence. A better way forward would be to use the opportunity of regional rebalancing to dial down military commitments and increase economic and development assistance. The United States needs to refocus its attention and resources on the challenges affecting the day-to-day lives of people. Building resilience to climate change in a region already struggling with poor infrastructure and expanding opportunities for youth are the types of issues that should top the agenda when U.S. officials visit the Middle East. American support in these areas should build on work that is already underway but is insufficiently resourced and showcased. In this moment of strategic flux, the United States has an opportunity to do things differently—to develop and implement a strategy for development and equity. Instead of outsize military investments, it could invest in solutions to the socioeconomic and governance challenges preventing a better life for the region’s citizens. The United States, along with its wealthy allies, could help partners that want to transform the region from a set of problems to a set of possibilities. Either way, the United States and the Middle East are not going to part ways—but Washington should seize the chance to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.


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Digital Banks: The Next Big Thing in Saudi Banking Sector The Advantages of Digital Banking for KSA Jeddah: Motasem Al Felou With the announcement of Fahad Al Mubarak, Governor of the Saudi Central Bank, about the Kingdom’s intention to license more digital banks,

the Saudi banking community should be ready for the newcomers who are expected to get a slice of the banking sector pie. Currently, 11 local banks and 19 foreign banks (4 of which have not started operations) are licensed

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by the Saudi Central Bank and approved by the Saudi cabinet. Last June, a couple of licenses were granted to digital banks, which are currently getting ready to launch their services once they meet all the operational requirements. Digital banks come to realize the Saudi Digital Transformation Plan, which represents an integral part of the Kingdom Vision 2030. What are the differences between digital banks and the traditional banks’ apps through which they can carry out their daily financial transactions? Does the Kingdom need more banks, digital or traditional? What can digital banks offer to customers?

WHAT ARE DIGITAL BANKS? Digital banks are fintech (financial technology) firms that do not physically exist (branchless) aimed at tech-savvy customers and provide all the banking and financial services through a digital platform. All front office operations (interacting with customers) and back-office operations (production of services, background processing and quality checking) are fully digitalized. Digital banks employ artificial intelligence (AI) to process data and connect the customers’ information with government, private and credit agencies. Saudi Central Bank Governor Fahad al-Mubarak speaks during a news conference in Riyadh March 3, 2013. REUTERS/ Faisal Al Nasser/File Photo

It is interesting to note that Monzo, a UK-based digital bank established in 2017, is the first digital bank in the world. It has around 6 million customers currently.

What are the differences between digital banks and the traditional banks’ apps through which they can carry out their daily financial transactions? banks as entities and digital banking that is executed through traditional banks’ apps and websites, Ahmed said: “The traditional banks’ apps and online portals are applications of digital banking, and they all belong to existing traditional banks, meaning you must have an account at the traditional bank that physically exists to enjoy the digital banking services. On the other hand, digital banks are independent, branchless and app-based banks. They exist only in the cyber space. In a nutshell, digital banks are fintech entities while traditional banks use fintech to provide digital banking services.”

DO WE NEED DIGITAL BANKS? Last April, Saudi Arabia witnessed the merger of two banks, National Commercial Bank and SAMBA Financial Group, to form a new entity called the National Saudi Bank. Two years before the formation of the National Saudi Bank, SABB Bank and ALAWWAL Bank merged, bringing down the number of Saudi local banks from 13 to 11.

Can digital banks fully replace human in- “The Saudi market is huge. The Kingdom needs more banks to heat up the competition and proteraction? “Digital banks use Chatbots, which employ conversational AI to help customers interact with computers and are used to answer questions and perform routine customer activities. However, there is always a team for client servicing that can help customers with serious problems. This can be done through voice/ video calls, emails, etc.,” said financial and accounting expert Abdulrahman Ahmed. When asked about the differences between digital

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vide quality services and attract more clients to raise the bar of the Saudi banking industry. The local market can accommodate more banks. The Kingdom can have regional banks and community banks. Digital banks will be a game changer,” said expert Ahmed. “The Saudi Central Bank does not grant bank licenses easily. The founders need to fully comply the regulations to start a new bank. This means the local banking environment is perfect for a healthy competition.”


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LICENSED DIGITAL BANK

e-wallet has evolved into a financial app that provides international money transfer services in coSTC Bank and the Saudi Digital Bank (SDB) were operation with Western Union, which later bought licensed six months ago. The solid digital infra- a 15% stake of STC Pay and is going to be a partstructure, the advanced internet services and the ner in the newly formed digital bank. The capital technical progress achieved in the Kingdom over of STC Bank is USD 670 million. the past few years have made it easier for digital banks to find their way into the world of banking. The Saudi Digital Bank is led by Abdul Rahman Saad Al-Rashed and Sons Company, a Saudi holdSTC Bank used to be an e-wallet under the name ing company with a portfolio of subsidiaries speSTC Pay and was launched in 2018 as a subsidi- cialized in investment management, real estate, ary of the Saudi Telecom Company (STC). The construction, and other sectors. The new digital bank has a capital of USD 400 million.

“The Saudi market is huge. The Kingdom needs more banks to heat up the competition and provide quality services and attract more clients to raise the bar of the Saudi banking industry.”

Both banks are expected to enable customers to open accounts, get debit and credit cards, apply for loans, and invest their money. “Unlike other startups that need funds to prosper and grow, both STC Bank and SDB have strong financial muscle to start their operations. Saudi digital banks are expected to expand their services to compete with traditional banks and increase the banking sector participation in the GDP. STC Bank succeeded in attracting a heavyweight foreign partner. It is a sign that digital banks are the next big thing in the Saudi banking sector,” concluded expert Abdulrahman Ahmed.

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Digital banks come to realize the Saudi Digital Transformation Plan, which represents an integral part of the Kingdom Vision 2030. Photo credit: Reuters



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The Threat of Post-Covid Inflation

By Saif Al-Abri

To our good luck, history has a lot of examples that match our scenario where the cause of the inflation is a pent-up demand together with a disruption in supply

As you’ve probably seen in the news, inflation rates are soaring in the UK (Oct. %4.2), US (Oct. %6.2) and Europe (Oct. %4.1). Although there are many other pressing economic issues, this one seems to be getting the spotlight. This is, of course, due to its potentially severe effect on our daily life. The rise of the inflation rate has been due to multiple reasons: - The rise of energy prices, for instance, by %16 in the UK (October). - Shortage of critical materials for both home builders and technology producers reliant on semiconductors. - Demand shifting from services to goods such as home appliances, equipment. - Rise in travel demand postCovid. All factors combined have caused demand to outstrip supply across the economies of the UK, US, and Europe, leading to the obvious outcome of inflation. However, will this lead to a wage-price spiral where workers experiencing high inflation will demand higher wages, leading to a detrimental impact on the economy as it did to multiple economies in the 1970s? 40

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Opinions vary but let’s take history into account. If we look at the causes of the rise in the inflation rate that led to the wage-price spiral in the 1970s, it is clear that we are dealing with a different scenario. The inflation rate was mainly due to the oil embargo implemented by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). A second surge was caused by a decline in oil production due to the Iranian Revolution and the Iran–Iraq War. This shows that we can’t look at the 1970s as an example, but rather, we need to find another inflationary period. To our good luck, history has a lot of examples that match our scenario where the cause of the inflation is a pent-up demand together with a disruption in supply. The most relevant example is the period after World War 2, taking the US as a case study. Supply was disrupted as suppliers concentrated their manufacturing capabilities on military production. Today we face the same issue whereby a crisis has inhibited production. Demand rose in the post-war period because most goods were rationed during the war and people saved a lot of money. They were


able to spend their money after the war and the purchase of goods boomed. Similar to now, people’s saving increased when they were cooped up in their homes, and now retail sales are booming. The only difference is that the US had price controls which restricted price increases to %30. After the government removed the price controls, prices rose immediately by %16. As such, we can use the postWorld War 2 inflationary period to predict what’s most likely to happen. The inflation rate returned

to normal levels as domestic and foreign supply chains returned to normal and demand levelled off. Of course, 1940s economies differ from modern economies, but comparing our crisis to that of the 1970s is a misleading comparison. Economics isn’t meteorology, however, so far, we haven’t experienced any symptoms of wage-price spirals as documented by Bloomberg. Therefore, we can safely assume that the probability of a wageprice inflationary spiral causing havoc to the economy is very low. 41

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All factors combined have caused demand to outstrip supply across the economies of the UK, US, and Europe, leading to the obvious outcome of inflation


A Weekly Political News Magazine

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Nagwa Fouad: The Egyptian Belly Dancer Loved by Henry Kissinger www.majalla.com



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Celebrating Arab Americans Through Art Majalla Interviews AANM Director on Museum’s Activities, Mission Washington, Mohammad Ali Salih Last week, The Arab American National Museum (AANM), in Dearborn, Michigan, the home of the largest Arabic and Islamic communities in the US, hosted the annual Arab Film Festival, as part of other activities for this one-of-its-kind museum. Despite a range of challenges since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, AANM has continued to provide free and accessible online educational and cultural programming to keep the Arab American community engaged, connected and safe. Last month, the AANM sponsored another annual event, the Grand Gala, a festive reunion of the Arab American community and a celebration of strength and hope. AANM, since its opening in 2005, has been dedicated to document, preserve and present the history, culture and contributions of Arab Americans. Its exhibitions, also cover the Arab world and the history of Arab Americans from the first immigrants who arrived in the late 19th century

until today. This is an interview with Diana Abouali, Director of AANM: Q: Could you please tell us about yourself, and your Arabic background? A: For many years, I have been working in the higher education and cultural heritage sectors in

1912 immigration photo of Ahmed Moslimani and his son

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The Arab American National Museum is devoted to recording the Arab American experience. Our mission has been to collect and present aspects of the history, culture and contributions of Arab Americans. present aspects of the history, culture and contributions of Arab Americans. Beside the exhibitions, we offer spaces for open dialogue and community gatherings; we also provide educational opportunities for children and students of all ages. And we work with established and emerging artists of all artistic mediums to uplift their work and share it with our regional and national audiences. Diana Abouali, Director, Arab American National Museum

the United States, Palestine and Jordan. I hold a PhD in History and Middle Eastern studies from Harvard University, and was assistant professor in the Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Languages and Literature at Dartmouth College (New Hampshire). Then, I worked as Head of Research and Collections at the newly-established Palestinian Museum in Birzeit, Palestine. Then, in Amman, Jordan, I worked as director of Education, Outreach and Awareness at the Petra National Trust. I also worked in cultural heritage education workshops to Syrian children and women in the Azraq and Zaatari refugee camps. I am a member of the general assembly of Taawon-Welfare Association, the largest Palestinian NGO that provides development and humanitarian assistance to Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territory and Lebanon.

Q: What was “Rajeen Y Hawa” , the recent gala? A: Our annual Grand Gala, this time, was themed “Rajeen Ya Hawa”, meaning “To Gather Again.” It featured spectacular entertainment by the esteemed National Arab Orchestra. The first large-scale in-person event since closing to the public because of the coronavirus, the Gala welcomed 400 guests and raised more than $200k net. Q: You just had a film festival? A: That was the annual Arab Film Festival (AFF) that we proudly host. It usually features fascinating new titles from some of the most creative Arab film-makers. It is one of the Museum’s longest-running programs, dating back to its inception in 2005.

It showcases Arab and Arab American films for fans of Arabic-language movies and adventurous art-film lovers seeking new perQ: Could you please tell us about the Arab spectives and outside-the-box thinking. Many of these films by both Arab world and Arab American National Museum? A: The Arab American National Museum is American artists are, with few exceptions, undevoted to recording the Arab American ex- likely to reach traditional American commerperience. Our mission has been to collect and cial theaters

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Q: You also host the Arab American Book Award? A: It has been an honor to host each year, outstanding books written by or about Arab Americans. The award was established in 2006 in partnership with librarians from the University of Toledo (Ohio). Its mission is to celebrate Arab American literature, and to honor those who have produced exemplary work. Through outreach and publicity, the award raises greater awareness of Arab American literature and scholarship. We have awarded

more than 100 books and every year we are honoring more titles and authors. Our book award is the only one in the nation created specifically to honor Arab American writers and books about the Arab American experience.

Arab American National Museum

Q: What sort of out-reach community activi-

Our commitment to our community began with our founding in 2005, and since then, we have used the arts as a tool for engaging it.

1930 First mosque in the state of Indiana

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1994 James Zogby with President Bill Clinton

ties do you do? A: Our commitment to our community began with our founding in 2005, and since then, we have used the arts as a tool for engaging it. Hundreds of thousands of visitors—both locally and nationally—have enjoyed programming that is responsive to and reflective

Our annual Grand Gala, this time, was themed “Rajeen Ya Hawa”, meaning “To Gather Again.” of the diverse Arab American community. We are committed to ensuring a space that is free of racism, transphobia, homophobia, Islamophobia, ableism, misogyny, classism or other biases. Q: Do you have relations with the Arab World? A: The focus of our institution and programming is on Arab Americans and the Arab diaspora, but we recognize that our story is made possible because of Arab immigrants who came to the United States during various periods of migration, bringing fresh Arab contributions. Meantime, we have partnerships with institutions and artists in the Arab world on a variety of programs.

1943 Arab women Red Cross sewing machine volunteers

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Carmen: The Gypsy Love Story through the Genius of Georges Bizet Iconic Opera “Carmen” Set for Special Showing at Bibliotheca Alexandrina By Sarah Gamal “L’amour est enfant de Bohême, Il n’a jamais jamais connu de loi. Si tou ne m’aimes pas, je t’aime. Si je t’aime, prends garde à toi!” Georges Bizet As you take a deep breath as soon as you hear the rhythm and before the clarinet murmurs, you will find yourself putting aside your cares of the day, even the cares of your whole life, as a listener, not a hearer, to an opera that is called “Carmen.” Under the patronage of Prof. Moustafa Elfeki, Director of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, and attended by the German Cultural Attaché Felix Halla, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina hosted the opera “Carmen,” which is a grand operatic work by French composer Georges Bizet. It was presented in its theatrical form to the audience of Alexandria in cooperation with the Goethe Institute in Alexandria over two nights of art. The Great Theater Hall in the library witnessed a turnout from the Alexandrian audience, which includes lovers of operatic art and theatrical arts. The show “Carmen Opera” aimed to integrate international professional artists from several coun-

tries, including Egypt, Germany and the United States of America in the main roles with young opera students of Alexandria singing in secondary roles and choir. The opera was a huge artwork presented for the first time in decades in its complete theatrical form to an audience in Alexandria. Directed by Manuel Schmitt and designed by Bernhard Siegl, this special performance interweaves an international cast of professional soConductor of the Opera Car� men at the BA Maestro/Nayer )Nagui (Supplied

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Ultimate Femme Fatale, Carmen (Act 1) (Photo by/Sarah Gamal).

loists with young Alexandrian talents from the Bibliotheca Alexandrina Choir, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina Children Choir and the Bibliotheca Alexandrina Orchestra under the baton of Maestro Nayer Nagui. The ultimate femme fatale, Carmen, proud and charming in her red Spanish robe, attracted the men of Seville who were fascinated by the goodness surrounding her. Only one of them dared to ignore her, Don José, and the Spanish seductress began to sing Love does not follow the rules and a fire of discreet love ignited between them. The gypsy seductress returns to the cigarette factory where she works and there is a quarrel between her and her colleagues. Don Jose attends and arrests Carmen, who refuses to answer any questions, but the song Near the Walls of Seville plays and tempts Don José to dance in a bar. During that time, she runs away, and Don Jose is arrested. Carmen continues the temptation and sedition after Don José is released, but she decides to ignite the fire of his jealousy and begins singing I will dance in your honor to the tunes of the Spanish harp. She then tells him about a night she spent singing and dancing with the soldiers, which angers Jose’s leader and his rival, Zuniga, who fights with José, and makes him flee from the army.

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The Great Theater Hall in the library witnessed a turnout from the Alexandrian audience, which includes lovers of operatic art and theatrical arts. In the last scene Don José appears again, to ask forgiveness from Carmen, who throws him a ring he gave her, which prompts him to stab and kill her. Carmen dies. José kneels and sings “Ah! Carmen! ma Carmen adorée!” All these scenes were heard by the audience with music and singing, and the musicians, performers and singers left the task of visualizing the scenery to the audience. Throughout the accelerating melody, its rise and fall, its calm at one time and its ignition at other times, and from the tone of the performers’ voice, their calm and ‘crying,’ and their hand movements, the sound effects they created, and their movements on stage, the audience was able to imagine the scenic backdrop of the story.


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The operatic theatrical work, which contains 27 pieces of music, broke the social restrictions that prevailed in France at the time in which it was written with the spectacle of women smoking, as well as the gypsy’s abandonment of social custom. Her absolute emancipation was absolutely rejected. This form depicted by the artwork, along with the unexpected end with the death of Carmen, contributed to the success of the work, where all these human events were accompanied with very beautiful music. Whereas the music, the dance and the

harmony of the actors combined with a high level of sensuality highlighted the unity of the scene and integration in the work. Carmen is an opera by French composer Georges Bizet, based on the novella of the same title by Prosper Mérimée. It is written in the genre of opéra comique with musical numbers separated

Directed by Manuel Schmitt and designed by Bernhard Siegl, this special performance interweaves an international cast of professional soloists with young Alexandrian talents from Bibliotheca Alexandrina.

Carmen enters and sings her provocative habanera on the untamable nature of love (Act 1) (“L’amour est un oiseau rebelle”).

Escamillo enters with Carmen, and they express their mutual love (Act 4) (Photo by/Sarah Gamal).

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The Men Plead with Carmen to Choose a Lover, and After Some Teasing She Throws A Flower to Don José (Act 1) (Photo by/ Sarah Gamal).

by dialogue. The opera was first performed by the Opéra-Comique in Paris on 3 March 1875, where its breaking of conventions shocked and scandalized its first audiences. Bizet the essence of his into Carmen, so it won the admiration of many great musicians who watched it repeatedly without boredom, such as Debussy,

Carmen is an opera by French composer Georges Bizet, based on the novella of the same title by Prosper Mérimée. Saint-Saens, and Tchaikovsky. They expected the opera to be famous and timeless, which was achieved, as it is shown to this day. In full agreement, Maestro Nayer Nagui said to Majalla: “Opera is not something alien to any culture, it is the style of singing, but since everyone hears music of all kinds, so all social classes can understand it without any obstacles.” “This opera has famous ‘themes’ and ‘clips,’ which beautify society with all its differences, and because watching and listening to opera is to explore other civilizations and to taste a different kind of music and aesthetic of performance and high art, these are factors allowing us to enjoy the opera regardless of its story,” Maestro Nayer Nagui added.

Don José pleads vainly for Carmen to return to him (Act 4) (Photo by/Sarah Gamal).

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Lady Gaga Brings Down the ‘House of Gucci’ in Ridley Scott’s Lavish Couture-Clash Drama A Sensational Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour, and Greed By Justin Chang Monarchies may fall and empires may crumble, but for the moment, epic family dynasties still reign with

a vengeance on the screen. Those impatient to learn what awaits House Roy in “Succession” can tide themselves over in the meantime with “Dune,” with its futuristic clash between the spice barons of House

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Atreides and House Harkonnen. Or perhaps they might warm themselves with the fiery antiroyalist screed of “Spencer,” which tracks Princess Diana’s desperate flight from the House of Windsor. And now along comes “House of Gucci,” Ridley Scott’s canny and engrossing movie about an Italian luxury brand and a family brought low by greed, fraud and vicious infighting, plus a notorious black widow played by a coldly electrifying Lady Gaga. We get a taste of that bitter end at the beginning. The movie opens on March 27, 1995, mere minutes before Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver), the fashion house’s former head, is gunned down in Milan by an assassin hired by his vengeful exwife, Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga). Scott cuts away before the killing occurs, in a way that can’t help but echo the violence-anticipating prologue of “The Last Duel,” his recent movie about the travails of a 14th-century Frenchwoman. Here, hundreds of years later, is another moment of calm before the storm and also another story of a woman caught up in an overbearingly male world of power and intrigue.

Lady Gaga in “House of Gucci.” (Courtesy of Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures Inc./TNS)

One crucial difference is that while the heroine of “The Last Duel” is sold into a bad marriage, Patrizia wills herself into one. She’s at a party in Milan in 1970, giving off Elizabeth Taylor vibes in a head-turning red dress, when she first meets the diffident, bespectacled Maurizio, who’s so awkward — but charmingly so — that it takes her a beat to realize he’s the heir to the famous Gucci fashion house. A reluctant heir, admittedly, who plans to practice law, shows little interest in the family business and is entirely naive about why Patrizia might have him locked in her sights. They soon marry, defying Maurizio’s father, Rodolfo Gucci (an elegant, exacting Jeremy Irons), who takes one look at his future daughter-in-law and guesses what she’s after. It’s hard to see how anyone couldn’t guess, since Patrizia’s darkly glittering eyes, which stop just short of burning holes in the screen, so nakedly telegraph her every desire. As in her previous unhappily ever after Cinderella story, “A Star Is Born,” Lady Gaga temporarily dons a workingclass shell, downplaying her natural magnetism in

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“House of Gucci,” Ridley Scott’s canny and engrossing movie about an Italian luxury brand and a family brought low by greed, fraud and vicious infighting, plus a notorious black widow played by a coldly electrifying Lady Gaga. order to maximize it. Before long, Patrizia stands revealed for what she is: an avatar of ambition and, like Gaga herself, a couturier’s delight, born to wear the silver-sequined evening gowns and furry après-ski ensembles dreamed up for her by costume designer Janty Yates. More than anything, Patrizia is a woman of insatiable hunger: She practically devours Maurizio in one molto vigoroso sex scene, and she looks ahead to the day that his millions — and his powerful place within the competitive Gucci family hierarchy — will be hers as well. The bonds of family are extended first by Rodolfo’s brother and business partner, Aldo Gucci (a boisterous, affectionate Al Pacino), who welcomes his new niece with open arms. He’s the company’s entrepreneurial genius, the one who continued his father Guccio’s mission to transform a Florentine family-run business into a global brand. Maurizio and Patrizia soon relocate to New York (and have a young daughter, Alessandra) to work in Gucci’s Manhattan stores. And before long, Rodolfo is dead, leaving his half of the company (in a roundabout fashion) to Maurizio and setting a furious round of power plays in motion. There are stormy confrontations and hostile takeovers, forged signatures and prison sentences, grim financial assessments and odd psychic readings (the latter delivered by Patrizia’s friend and future accomplice, Pina Auriemma, played by a very game Salma Hayek).


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Patrizia takes a keen pride in the business — the market for cheap Gucci knockoffs infuriates her — and, like a chain-smoking, mud-bathing Lady Macbeth, spurs her husband toward increasing acts of ruthlessness against his own family. One of their easier marks is Aldo’s black-sheep son, Paolo, who fancies himself a great designer but whose incompetence and vulgarity seem to seep out of his pores like sweat. He’s played by Jared Leto, unrecognizable under a bald pate and prosthetic jowls, in the kind of garishly extreme transformation that has become this actor’s lipsmacking MO. It’s an attention-grabbing stunt; it also works like gangbusters, particularly because Leto’s performance — hilarious, sympathetic, full of tragicomic pathos — feels precisely scaled to the demands of a movie that often revels in its own posh, padded vulgarity. I mean that mostly as praise; it’s also a sure sign that Scott and his collaborators — including screenwriters Becky Johnston and Roberto Bentivegna, here adapting Sara Gay Forden’s 2000 book — have fully comprehended their subject. The line between art and trash is always a porous one, in high-end goods as well as cinema. And not unlike some of the totems of luxury on display here, “House of Gucci” is a calculated, highly controlled amalgam of the stylish and the tacky. It’s also remarkably savvy about the inherent kinship between fashion and cinema, something Rodolfo himself acknowledges when he reminisces about his own past career as a film actor, as well as the iconic floral scarf he commissioned for Grace Kelly.

“House of Gucci” will surely do its part to burnish the brand, even as it gleefully airs two decades’ worth of dirty (but still utterly fabulous) laundry.

This is a company that, at least since Ingrid Bergman clutched a bamboo-handled Gucci bag in Roberto Rossellini’s “Journey to Italy,” has long relied on Hollywood’s glamour icons to sell its pricey wares. And so there’s something fitting, even respectful, about the sheer number of movie stars that have been pressed into service here. Throwing subtlety to the wind with wild gesticulations and exaggerated Italian accents, they may flirt with and sometimes tumble headlong into stereotype, but they do so with a verve and commitment that, for the better part of two-and-a-half hours, disarms judgment and suspends disbelief. Were any of these characters really this awful or this riveting? Did any of it actually happen this way? Possibly. More or less. Of course not. As in any slick bio-fiction, characters have been excised, timelines fudged, perspectives distorted. And yet, even amid the inevitable simplifications and exaggerations, it all coheres, with a kind of implacably grim logic, into an extended cautionary tale about how family and business shouldn’t mix. That lesson is hastened by various outsiders and opportunists, including formidable Gucci lawyer Domenico De Sole (a chillingly pokerfaced Jack Huston), maverick Texas designer Tom Ford (Reeve Carney) and the private equity firm Investcorp, all of which will do their part to separate the family from the company that bears its name. “House of Gucci” will surely do its part to burnish the brand, even as it gleefully airs two decades’ worth of dirty (but still utterly fabulous) laundry. But Scott, now 83 and an ever more clear-eyed, dispassionate observer of how power and industry operate behind closed doors, doesn’t go out of his way to fetishize the inventory. He and his director of photography, Dariusz Wolski, shoot the Gucci family’s executive suites and luxe residences in muted grays, lending an often-sepulchral cast to the shadowy interiors and the actors’ faces. And they are no more intoxicated by the sight of double-G belts and Horsebit loafers than they were by the barrels of cocaine rolling through “The Counselor,” Scott’s brilliant 2013 thriller about a lawyer’s disastrous swerve into the Mexican drug trade.

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Lady Gaga, left, stars as Patrizia Reggiani and Jared Leto as Paolo Gucci in Ridley Scott’s”House of Gucci.” (Fabio Lovino/ Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures/TNS).


Although it too focuses on an outsider who makes the mistake of fancying themself an insider, “House of Gucci” doesn’t have that earlier movie’s blistering nihilism. It’s a fashion show, figuratively and often literally, and its cutthroat dynamics are lightened with heavy dollops of foam and froth. If anything, its utter fascination with its characters, its refusal to condemn even the most irredeemable of them, gestures toward its most significant and obvious cinematic influence, “The Godfather.” There’s Leto’s dead-on channeling of Fredo Corleone; there’s also Pacino and, just as important, Driver’s eerie channeling of Pacino in the movie’s subtlest performance. You may think of Michael Corleone as Maurizio transforms from a quietly principled Gucci agnostic into the fortune-squandering head of the whole empire, his star rising even as his

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marriage goes spectacularly south. But that’s more or less where the comparisons end. There is, for one, no “Godfather” equivalent of Patrizia Reggiani, and no one in “House of Gucci” who can ultimately contend with the force of nature that is Lady Gaga. In a movie that delights in its own counterfeit charms, she is very much the real deal. This review is originally published by Los Angeles Times.

‘HOUSE OF GUCCI’ MPAA rating: R (for language, some sexual content and brief nudity and violence) Running time: 2:37 Where to watch: Now playing in theaters


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How Bad Will Omicron Be? Scientists Won’t Really Know for Months

By Melissa Healy In a virus that has already killed 5.2 million people across the globe, 50 or so new mutations sound like a nightmare for humanity. But in the age-old battle between microbes and mankind, that many genetic changes can turn the tide in any direction. The next chapter of the pandemic could feature an Omicron variant that spreads more readily than Delta, blows past the defenses of a fully vaccinated immune system, and, like its coronavirus cousin

that causes Middle East respiratory syndrome, kills more than one-third of those who get it. That worst-case scenario would be an unfathomable disaster, said Dr. Bruce Walker, an immunologist and founding director of the Ragon Institute in Cambridge, Mass. At the other end of a wide spectrum of possibilities, humanity could catch a break. Omicron could turn out to be a benign variant that spreads as fast as Delta, is easily tamed by vaccine, and barely sickens its victims while leaving them with some

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It will take weeks and months - and the work of a legion of scientists across the globe - to begin to know whether the Omicron variant will change the course of the pandemic, and how.

The next chapter of the COVID pandemic could feature an Omicron variant that spreads more readily than Delta variant. (Photo by CDC on Unsplash)

Travelers arrive from international flights, including from South Africa, at Newark Liberty International Airport on November 2021 ,30 in Newark, New Jersey. (Spencer Platt/ Getty Images/AFP)

immunity and little risk of developing “long COVID.” In that case, “nature may have created a natural vaccine,” Walker said. But it will take weeks and months — and the work of a legion of scientists across the globe — to begin to know whether the Omicron variant will change the course of the pandemic, and how. In the waning days of 2021, microbiologists, immunologists and genetic scientists will offer key early insights into the variant’s penchant for spread and its ability to thwart treatments and vaccines in the confines of a lab. It will take until early 2022 for contact-tracing teams and epidemiologists to flesh out the emerging picture with real-world data on whom Omicron sickens, and the extent of their illnesses. Then mathematical modelers will plug in what’s known, fill in what’s not, and forecast a range of outcomes. Until those bits and pieces of evidence begin to congeal, all we have are anecdotes, said infectious-disease specialist Dr. Joshua Schiffer of the Fred Hutchison Cancer Research Center in Seattle, “and the anecdotes are not helpful.” The impact of the Omicron variant “really needs to be assessed in a systematic way, looking at very large numbers of people,” Schiffer said. “This is going to take a bit of time to parse.” Once again, the coming months will provide the public a lesson in both the science of uncertainty

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and the uncertainty of science. Like a jigsaw puzzle, the complete picture of Omicron’s impact will emerge only in pieces. Almost two years into a pandemic, scientists need to take the measure of the SARS-CoV2- virus yet again. This time, they have a variant changed by an unprecedented number of mutations with worrisome histories. And they are assessing its strengths and weaknesses in a diverse population of potential hosts that ranges from uninfected-andentirely-susceptible to vaccinated-and-boosted. “There are so many moving parts,” said Dr. Jonathan Li, a Harvard infectious-disease specialist who directs the virology laboratory at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. It’s possible that Omicron’s detection just happened to coincide with an isolated outbreak or superspreader event that prompted South African scientists to step up their collection of viral coronavirus specimens. If Omicron fails to gain more footholds as it lands in a wider range of places, its apparent role in driving South Africa’s latest outbreak may prove to have been a case of misattribution, Schiffer said. Now that the Omicron variant has been detected in several countries, its powers of transmission will be tested. If it’s found to be gaining ground, the next challenge will be for scientists to determine whether its increased spread is a function of some innate biological advantage that helps it spread from person to person and whether it’s specially equipped to evade the defenses of people who gained immunity from a vaccine or past infection. A cursory check of Omicron’s constellation of mutations raises deep concerns on both fronts. “This variant seems to have some of the greatest


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hits when it comes to mutations,” Li said. A good many of them are heavily concentrated along a string of genetic code that governs the shape and behavior of the spike protein, which the virus uses to latch onto human cells. Two mutations are at a site the virus uses to pry its way into those cells and hijack them for its own replication. And several more have been seen in other variants that are capable of evading antibodies made by the immune system in response to vaccines and previous infections.

That’s just the beginning.

If Omicron does establish itself outside southern Africa, scientists will need to gauge the relative contributions of the variant’s increased transmissibility and its ability to overpower a prepared immune system.

“It’s not only the sheer number of mutations” that’s concerning, Li said. It’s how broadly across the virus’ genome they are scattered, and the range of functions they have the potential to change: “It just has a lot of mutations, all over the place.” If Omicron does establish itself outside southern Africa, scientists will need to gauge the relative contributions of the variant’s increased transmissibility and its ability to overpower a prepared immune system. Those findings will help guide the next steps, including a potential renewal of public health measures and the reformulation of mRNA vaccines and boosters specifically tailored to thwart the new variant. Vaccine makers Pfizer and Moderna have said they could ready such vaccines in just a few months’ time. With lab studies to guide their hunches, scientists should find the task of separating increased transmissibility from so-called immune escape simple enough. If new infections linked to Omicron occur primarily in unvaccinated people, heightened transmissibility would seem to be at work. If new infections are just as likely to occur in people who’ve been vaccinated as in those who haven’t, scientists might conclude the variant has found its way around antibodies meant to block it. But that seemingly straightforward analysis will be complicated by several factors. The COVID19vaccines available across the world have ranged

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Travelers from South Africa are tested for the Coronavirus Omicron variant upon arrival in a specially designed test lane at the Schiphol airport, The Netherlands, 30 November 2021. It was decided to set up the test street after the socalled Omicron variant of the coronavirus was found in southern Africa. (EPA/REMKO DE WAAL)


A woman receives a dose of a COVID19vaccine at a center, in Soweto, South Africa, Monday, Nov. ,29 2021. The emergence of the new omicron variant and the world’s desperate and likely futile attempts to keep it at bay are reminders of what scientists have warned for months: The coronavirus will thrive as long as vast parts of the world lack vaccines. (AP Photo/ Denis Farrell)

widely in their ability to block reinfection. The waning of vaccine-induced immunity has thrown another wild card into the mix. If a vaccinated person has a breakthrough case involving Omicron, it won’t necessarily be clear whether the variant busted through the vaccine’s defenses or those defenses had already fallen on their own. If it turns out that Omicron isn’t readily stopped by vaccines, the world would find itself back at square one, said Dr. Charles Chiu, an infectious disease specialist at UC San Francisco. But it may take more than that for the variant to wreak havoc, he added. The Beta variant first seen in South Africa and the Gamma variant in Brazil both demonstrated the ability to evade vaccine defenses, Chiu said. But when they competed head-to-head against the highly transmissible Delta variant in the United States and elsewhere, they didn’t gain much traction, Chiu said. The lesson: Even if Omicron is adept at overcoming vaccines, its impact will be blunted if it can’t unseat Delta. The final test of Omicron’s powers to worsen the pandemic will be to understand whether it can make people sicker and cause more deaths than the variants that have come before. If it is both more transmissible and more virulent, the result would be disastrous, Walker said. “That is the question that’s most important to answer,” he said.

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The final test of Omicron’s powers to worsen the pandemic will be to understand whether it can make people sicker and cause more deaths than the variants that have come before. But scientists will have to be patient. It typically takes at least a couple of weeks of illness for an infected person to become sick enough to be placed under intensive care or to die, Walker said. And scientists will have to meld clinical data with genetic sequencing to know whether Omicron’s mutations are responsible. Tulio de Oliveira, the South African geneticist who led the team that identified the Omicron variant, said scientists across Africa will be working feverishly to collect that data over the next several weeks. He said he suspects that greater powers of both transmission and of immune escape have pushed Omicron into the global spotlight. But he’s reluctant to make predictions about the variant’s ability to sicken. “The next weeks are so crucial,” he said. This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.


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Nagwa Fouad: The Egyptian Belly Dancer Loved by Henry Kissinger By Majalla

Illustration by Ali Mandalawi

Nagwa Fouad, an Egyptian belly dancer and actress, was born on January 17, 1939. She was born as Awatef Mohamed Agami in Alexandria to a middleclass Egyptian family with an Egyptian father and Palestinian mother. The family moved to Jaffa soon after Nagwa’s birth. In 1948, the family had to flee their home because of Jaffa’s occupation by Israel. Nagwa’s father fled to Alexandria and Nagwa moved to Cairo. Her dancing career started when she was working as a receptionist at the Orabi Agency, a talent agency for the stars of the Egyptian cinema. A critical moment in her career was meeting the prominent Egyptian violin player, composer and conductor, Ahmed Fouad Hassan, who suggested that Nagwa perform in his 1960s musical Adwaa Al Madina (City Lights). Ahmed encouraged Nagwa to learn theatrical techniques and showmanship. Nagwa said: ‘He trained me at the Nelly Mazloum Dance School and I joined the National Dance Troupe to study folklore with Russian teachers. She began belly dancing in the early 1960s. In 1976, the composer Mohammed Abdel Wahab wrote an entire musical piece exclusively for her belly dancing show titled “Amar Arbatashar” (a popular Egyptian slang term meaning the “full Moon of the 14th [day].” This marked her transition from traditional oriental dance to choreographed stage performances. After Fouad’s marriage to Ahmed Fouad Hassan, she danced in the stage show Adwoua El-Madina (City Lights), which included such performers as Abdel Halim Hafez, Fayza Ahmed, Shadia and Sabah. Fouad featured on many of the covers of the Ahmed Fouad Hassan’s albums. Nagwa Fouad learned the showmanship and eye-catching techniques that

she used in her performances of “Ayoub El-Masri” (Ayoub, the Egyptian) and “Bahiya wa Yassin.” Fouad acted for the first time in a movie entitled “Ighraa” (Seduction), which was shown in 1957, after which her work varied between dancing and acting. She also acted and danced in the movie “Love Street” with Abdel Halim Hafez and danced to the song “Bitlomoni Leh” in 1958. She presented many diverse artworks, amounting to more than 250, and her latest artwork is her role in the series “Ard El Nafaq” (Land of Hypocrisy) in 2018, and the movie “Egypt Stock Exchange Coffee” in 2019. Nagwa Fouad was considered one of the most famous raqs sharqi dancers in the Arab world in the 1970s. Raqs sharqi had been performed at events and celebrations, in nightclubs and on cinema sets, and with Nagwa Fouad’s musicals, raqs sharqi took a completely new dimension which has not been replicated since. Fouad was married more than once during her life, with a total of 12 marriages, despite some sources reporting that she married 15 times. She married for the first time to the Egyptian violin player, composer and conductor Ahmed Fouad Hassan, and then separated from him after she gave birth to one daughter. The second husband was dance coach Kamal Naim, but she did not continue with him either and separated. The third husband was the young star Ahmed Ramzy, with a 1963 marriage lasting only 17 days. Nagwa Fouad’s fourth husband was the Lebanese Sami Al Zoghbi, who worked as a manager in a Cairo hotel. Their relationship began because Nagwa was presenting a segment every night in the same hotel, but she separated from him and later married an Egyptian businessman who owned a Chevrolet car agency. After splitting up with him, she married businessman Fayez Trad, then separated to marry for the seventh time to Sami Al-Muhandis. After marrying and divorc-

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ing Muhammad Musa, she married a Kuwaiti businessman. She separated from him and married Imad Abdel Halim Al-Mutreb, who is the uncle of the singer Angham. She separated from him after she discovered that he was addicted to heroin, and her last husband was Major General Mohammed Al-Sibai. Many notable Egyptian and foreign politicians watched Fouad on stage. For instance, both US President Richard Nixon and his Secretary of State Henry Kissinger saw one of her performances and it is said that the latter was infatuated with her and even asked her to marry him. Some rumors circulated about a relationship between Nagwa Fouad and the former US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, but when asked about the truth of this relationship, she said: “This talk is baseless, Kissinger did not propose to me, all this was the imagination of the yellow press. What happened In 1974 is that the Egyptian Foreign Ministry asked the management of the hotel where I was working to allocate the hall in which I was performing every night to US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and his bodyguards only, as a kind of celebration and entertainment for him during his visits to Egypt during the disengagement period after the October victory.” For his part, Kissinger mentioned in his memoirs some words about Nagwa Fouad, he wrote: “I was always keen, every time I visited Cairo, to make sure that the Egyptian dancer, Nagwa Fouad, was present. She fascinated me, and I consider her one of the most beautiful things that I have seen in the Arab world, if not the only thing.” Fouad’s only wish is to do the Hajj pilgrimage, something she said she would do once she has the finances needed. She is strongly considering resigning from the entertainment industry if she performs the holy pilgrimage, and has indicated that she would also commit to wearing the hijab.