Egypt’s economy is in crisis. So why is the government spending millions on a fancy new space agency?

The Egyptian pyramids at Giza, on the outskirts of Cairo are seen from above in an image taken by European Space Agency astronaut Tim Peake from the International Space Station on April 19, 2016. Tim Peake/ESA/NASA/Getty World Updated | On a dusty construction site in the desert on the outskirts of Cairo, a blue glass building glints in the sunlight. The shiny new complex is home to the new Egyptian Space Agency, a reboot of an abandoned 1960s program that the country’s cash-poor government says will produce satellites to drive innovation and discover resources, which it hopes are hiding under Egypt’s vast deserts.After sweeping to power in a popular military coup almost four years ago, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi is now struggling to prove he can save a sputtering economy that has led to long lines at gas stations and inflated food prices and prompted one desperate citizen to set himself on fire. The space program is el-Sissi’s latest attempt to reinvigorate the Egyptian economy with a series of mega-projects—from a new administrative capital city outside Cairo to a second Suez Canal. But while investing in infrastructure can create jobs and jump-start economic growth, many in Egypt question whether the country can afford el-Sissi’s projects when so many Egyptians are living in poverty. Keep up with this story and more by subscribing now Shoppers mill about on a market street on December 14, 2016 in Cairo, Egypt. Since the 2011 Arab Spring, Egyptians have been facing a crisis—the uprising brought numerous political changes, but also economic turmoil, increased terror attacks and the unraveling of the once strong tourism sector. Inflation currently sits at its highest level in seven years, jobless rates are above 13 percent and about 27 per cent of people are said to be living in poverty. Chris McGrath/Getty Egypt announced the establishment of a new space agency on August 3, near the end of a Continue Reading

Families struggle to find safety in Turkish border towns hit by rockets and crossfire

REYHANLI, Turkey — When tanks and airstrikes destroyed his home in a village in northern Syria,  Hani Barad fled with his family to safety in a nearby town.Hani Barad’s three children would go outside to play only to come running home in fear every time a plane flew overhead. “They were scared. That wasn’t life,” Barad said.When he was caught criticizing the Syrian government, Barad was arrested, tortured and jailed for two months. When he was released, fighting between rebels and government forces began to escalate.  Again, he packed up his children and fled north, this time just over the Turkish border.Now the war has again encroached on their place of refuge. This time, it’s two allies of the United States — a Kurdish-Syrian rebel group and the Turkish government — slugging it out on the Turkish border.“We don’t want that again, if we have to leave here, we will leave,” Barad said.The latest front in Syria's nearly seven year civil war has not only rattled Turkish border towns hit by rockets and crossfire. It has also further strained relations between Turkey and the U.S. and raised questions about the effectiveness of the U.S. strategy to root out Islamic State militants in Syria. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson laid out a new strategy Jan. 17 in a speech at Stanford University. He committed the U.S. to an open-ended troop presence in northeast Syria. The goals: To fight Islamic State and groups linked to al-Qaeda, counter Iranian influence in the region and get Syria’s President Bashar Assad out of power.The U.S. plan includes further cooperation with Syrian Kurdish militants, something that has infuriated Turkey and sparked its operation against Syrian-Kurdish militants in Afrin.Analysts such as Faysal Itani, a resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, doubt whether such an objective is Continue Reading

Egypt to investigate those calling for vote boycott

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's prosecutor general has launched an investigation into leading opposition figures who have called for a boycott of next month's presidential election, over accusations they are attempting to "overthrow the regime." Nabil Sadeq's office in a statement late Monday said it had referred a complaint filed against 13 individuals by a lawyer named Mohammed Hamid Salam to the Giza prosecutor's office, which may now call them in for examination. The move is yet another sign that authorities will not allow even the slightest questioning of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi's continued rule ahead of the March vote, in which he is the only serious candidate despite a last-minute bid launched by a supporter. A coalition of eight opposition parties and some 150 prominent pro-democracy figures, including former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi, announced a boycott last month. The complaint accuses them of "incitement against the state" and trying to destabilize the country. Authorities have waged a sweeping crackdown on dissent since el-Sissi led the military overthrow of an elected Islamist president in 2013, and pro-government media routinely portray dissent as part of a foreign conspiracy to sow chaos. Khaled Dawoud, head of the Constitution Party and one of the boycotters, denied the allegations in a Facebook post, saying that such "lies" themselves were incitement and that he "cannot understand what the prosecutor general is concerned about." Dawoud is an outspoken critic of what he calls the current wave of "oppression." Former lawmaker Mohammed Anwar Sadat, a nephew of assassinated Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat, said Egypt needed a national dialogue and "real independent institutions" in order to "avoid escalations and clashes." Sadat had considered running but cancelled his bid last month, saying he feared for the safety of his supporters. "The political freeze that we are living, which is similar to a blood clot around the heart, Continue Reading

Egypt’s Feared Spy Agency Has Hired Some DC Lobbyists To Clean Up Its Image

Egypt’s powerful spy service recently hired a pair of high-powered Beltway lobbying firms on retainers of $50,000–$100,000 per month to influence the Trump administration.Egypt’s General Intelligence Service, known in the Arab world as the infamous mukhabarat, has hired communications powerhouse Weber Shandwick and DC lobbying firm Cassidy and Associates to spruce up its image inside Washington and promote what it describes as its “strategic partnership” with the US, according to documents filed with the Treasury Department.The documents, dated late January, appear to have first been reported late last month by the newsletter Intelligence Online.Foreign governments frequently hire lobbyists to improve how they are viewed among Washington policymakers, build up commercial ties or strengthen military partnerships. But it is rather rare for an intelligence service to undertake its own lobbying effort, especially one with a reputation as sullied as Egypt’s mukhabarat. It has been accused by human rights monitors of torture and unlawful detention of perceived political enemies of the government of President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi. Its very name in the Arab world conjures up images of naked men hanging from the ceilings of dungeons while screaming in agony from electric shocks.According to the Treasury filings, the mukhabarat’s DC lobbyists are to help identify potential Washington insiders “supportive” of its agenda, massage the spy outfit’s public image using social media, provide crisis management help, and perhaps organize visits of Egyptian spymasters to Washington. Weber Shandwick, on retainer for $100,000 a month plus expenses, boasts on its website that it specializes in brand improvement. Cassidy, meanwhile, will be earning a quarterly fee of $150,000.The Egyptian government has for years had a $2 million-a-year lobbying contract with the Glover Park Group. The mukhabarat’s venture may suggest Continue Reading

Islamic State–Sinai Province: What is the ISIS-linked terrorist group?

The United States and its allies have made massive gains against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq recently, but Friday's attack on an Egyptian mosque that killed more than 200 people showed how one of its affiliates has quickly become a new concern.The attack was carried out by the Islamic State – Sinai Province, according to the Associated Press, marking the latest attack committed by the six-year-old terror cell. And while the group may be unknown by many citizens, the intelligence community has been closely following its rise in the region for years. More: Hundreds killed in Egypt mosque attack, state media reports More: Closer look at the deadliest militant attacks in Egypt "The group is undeniably the most coordinated and operationally effective group in Egypt," according to an analysis by the Washington, D.C.-based Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy. The militant group was created in 2011 following the Arab Spring that led to the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The government's collapse resulted in a power vacuum in the North African nation, which was partly filled by the new group. With no ties to the Islamic State at the time, the group's leaders focused on centralizing power in the Sinai Peninsula, the eastern region of Egypt that shares a border with Israel and the Gaza Strip. They recruited heavily throughout the Sinai Peninsula, winning over residents and fighters."Since its formation … the group appears to have breathed life into Egyptian jihadi cells by bringing them under one umbrella," according to the Tahrir Institute analysis. The group was first called Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, or ABM, and it made quick headlines with some high-profile attacks, according to the Mapping Militants project at Stanford University. In July 2012, the group attacked an Egyptian pipeline that exported gas to Israel. Later that year, fighters Continue Reading

Egyptians use social media to mock government’s youth event

CAIRO (AP) — Egyptians are using the social media hashtag of an international youth conference organized by the government to slam its poor human rights record and crackdown on free speech. Billed as the "World Youth Forum" under the patronage of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, the event is scheduled for Nov. 4-10 in the Red Sea city of Sharm el-Sheikh. On its web site, organizers had encouraged people to use the hashtag #WeNeedToTalk for posts from early October onward. But as with previous government attempts to harness social media, the move seems to have backfired. By Tuesday, Twitter was alight with criticism and the hashtag reached Egypt's top trending topic, with users posting images of Egyptian police beating and chasing down youths during el-Sissi's rule alongside portraits of young jailed activists. One mentioned a student jailed for three years for posting a doctored image of el-Sissi wearing Mickey Mouse ears. "#WeNeedToTalk about the disappeared ... about torture ... about corruption ... about millions spent on arms in a country with no health care," one user posted. Egypt has waged an unprecedented crackdown on dissent under el-Sissi, a former general who came to power after overthrowing his elected but divisive Islamist predecessor in 2013. What began as wholesale lockups of Muslim Brotherhood members was later extended to prominent secular activists and others who criticized the government's policies. Thousands have been imprisoned, with some rights advocates putting the number as high as 60,000. Activists and organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have documented enforced disappearances, widespread torture and a recent arrest campaign targeting people authorities believe are gay. The authorities have blocked hundreds of independent news and critical websites. El-Sissi denies that Egypt tortures or has any political prisoners, and maintains that human rights are only one among several pressing issues his Continue Reading

The death of the caliphate: Why ISIS’s huge territorial setbacks in Syria and Iraq are so devastating to the terrorist group

Now that Mosul, the seat of the so-called "caliphate" in Iraq, has fallen, ISIS has a problem: It is a self-avowedly Islamic State without a state. And although the group retains its hold on Raqqa in Syria, where it's currently encircled by U.S.-backed Syrian forces, it's likely that it will relinquish that former stronghold too by the end of the year. It is hard to exaggerate the scale of the problem for the group. ISIS's claim to lead the global jihadist movement rested exclusively on its territorial successes in Iraq and Syria. At the height of its powers in 2015, it commanded an area of land the size of Britain, attracting around 30,000 fighters from at least 86 countries. No other jihadist group had annexed that amount of territory before, nor recruited as many foreign citizens to its ranks, including around 5,000 from Europe. In mid-2014, the group seemed unstoppable, rampaging across Syria and Iraq at breathtaking speed and with a violent ruthlessness that made even Al Qaeda, the group out of which it emerged and sought to eclipse, seem restrained. Rarely a week would pass in those heady days of ISIS ascendancy without the publication of some wildly improbable story about the latest schoolgirl, doctor, grandfather or male model who had exchanged their enviable lives in the West for new ones in the caliphate. And thanks to its mass production of high-definition atrocities, disseminated by a vast and seemingly indefatigable cadre of fanboys, ISIS was never out of the news. Some stories were just straight up bizarre and obviously just too good to be true, like the one in the Daily Mail about ISIS "using bombs containing live SCORPIONS in effort to spread panic." Others were just straight up sensationalist, like the report aired by CNN titled "ISIS using 'jihotties' to recruit brides for fighters." And not a few were just sensationally stupid, like the interview segment — again from CNN — on how ISIS was luring women with Continue Reading

Some former Sisi allies turn critics as Egypt election nears

By Amina Ismail CAIRO (Reuters) - Some of the people who helped propel Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to power are calling for his replacement in an election next year, a sign of a shift in the still widespread view that he is a force for stability. Although the former military commander has yet to declare he will run in the June election, only two people have aired the idea of challenging him and even they say Sisi is likely to win, aided by a crackdown on his opponents that is gathering pace. But the criticism in recent months from several of Sisi's staunchest former allies of his handling of the economy, security and a territorial dispute is striking in a country where fear of turmoil is another factor stifling dissent. "He must go," Hazim Abdelazim, a leading figure in Sisi's official 2014 presidential campaign, told Reuters. "He wasn't honest. He didn't respect the law or constitution. He has drowned the country in debt, and he had given up (our) land." The presidency did not respond to a request for comment. Sisi's allies have dismissed accusations of rights abuses, saying his measures are needed for security in the face of an Islamist insurgency. Sisi says his government is working to put the economy back on track. His decision last year to hand two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, which showered Egypt with billions of dollars of aid, was seen by many Egyptians as an affront to national sovereignty. The plan prompted rare protests and has since become mired in legal challenges. Closer to home, the population is struggling with rampant inflation and persistent and deadly Islamist attacks which the government says justifies its jailing of political opponents and activists and closing of critical media. In 2014, a year after he seized power during mass protests against Egypt's first freely elected president, Islamist Mohammed Mursi, Sisi won an election by a landslide, promising economic growth, stability and a crackdown on militants. Continue Reading

Five years after Mubarak’s fall, lessons for Washington: It is now perfectly clear how the Obama administration failed

Five years ago today, Egypt’s military responded to 18 days of mass protests by ousting longtime President Hosni Mubarak, and Washington has argued with itself over what the U.S. did, or should have done, ever since. Did President Obama put America on the “right side of history” — in other words, properly stand with the youthful protesters against an octogenarian dictator — when he called for a political “transition” to “begin now” on uprising’s eighth day? Or, should Obama have listened to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who cautioned that the uprising, “may work out fine in 25 years, but I think the period between now and then will be quite rocky for the Egyptian people, for the region, and for us”? Of course, this dilemma cuts to the heart of the proverbial interests-versus-values tradeoff that frames Middle East policy debates. And these questions have become politically significant now that Clinton is running for President. EGYPT OFFICIALS HUNTING PERPS IN SHOOTING NEAR GIZA PYRAMIDS Yet this rehashing of the administration’s internal “Arab Spring” debate vastly overstates U.S. influence over Egypt’s fast-moving uprising. In fact, by the time Obama called for a political “transition” to “begin now,” the window for a transition — in other words, an extended political process — had already passed. The uprising began on Jan. 25, 2011, when mostly non-Islamist activists organized protests against police brutality in downtown Cairo’s Tahrir Square. The crowds were much larger than anticipated, and inspired the activists to organize a massive “Friday of Rage” protest on Jan. 28. The Muslim Brotherhood, which avoided the initial protests because it feared repression, participated, and mobilized its many thousands of followers to march from their mosques after Friday prayers towards Tahrir Square. Continue Reading

Arab anti-Semitism refuses to die: Democratic uprisings highlight lingering hatred of Jews

During World War II, the leader of the Palestinians lived in a Berlin villa, a gift from a grateful Adolf Hitler, who clearly got his money's worth. Haj Amin al-Husseini, the grand mufti of Jerusalem and the titular leader of Muslim Palestinians, broadcast Nazi propaganda to the Middle East, recruited European Muslims for the SS, exulted in the Holocaust - and after the war went on to represent his people in the Arab League. He died somewhat ignored but never repudiated. Husseini might have been a Nazi to his very soul, but he was also a Palestinian nationalist with genuine support among his own people. The Allies originally considered him a war criminal, but to many Arabs, he was a patriot. His exterminationist anti-Semitism was considered neither overly repugnant nor all that exceptional. The Arab world is saturated by Jew-hatred. Some of this hatred was planted by Husseini and some of it long existed, but whatever the case, it remains a remarkable, if unremarked on, feature of Arab nationalism. The other day, for instance, about 1 million Egyptians in Tahrir Square heard from Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi, an esteemed religious leader and Muslim Brotherhood figure whose anti-Semitic credentials are unimpeachable. Among other things, he has said that Hitler was sent by Allah as "divine punishment" for the Jews. His Al Jazeera program is one of that TV network's most popular. I have read the assurances of scholars and journalists alike that the Muslim Brotherhood has mutated into the Common Cause of Egypt (Jordan, too) and that its anti-Semitism is merely an odd and archaic quirk. I hope this is the case. But I put more faith in the staying power of anti-Semitism than I do in the forecasting gifts of my colleagues. The trouble with democracies is that they tend to cater to the prejudices of the people - not just to their good sense. This explains why almost all the nations of Central and Eastern Europe turned rabidly anti-Semitic when democracy was Continue Reading