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Mursi and Egypt's Five Worst Problems

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Japan-China-Senkakus: Three Chinese fishing patrol ships entered waters claimed by Japan today, according to the Japanese coast guard. This sets the stage for another standoff over disputed islands and sea areas in northeast Asia.

China-North Korea: At the meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) In Phnom Penh, Cambodia, today, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi met with DPRK Foreign Minister Pak Ui-chun on the sidelines of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meetings. Both men professed their commitment to the traditional friendship between the two states. Neither used the Maoist formula that the two countries are as close as lips and teeth.

Comment: The language of the latest statements continues to indicate the relationship is on a new, more distant basis that lacks the closeness of the Maoist formula.

Pakistan: An unnamed Pakistani official told the press that bureaucratic delays are slowing the flow of supplies to NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Comment: A number of political groups have filed lawsuits to challenge the constitutionality of the new prime minister's agreement to restore the supply operations. A recent survey showed that 80% of Pakistanis are hostile to the United States and want the supply operations halted. This issue is not settled and the prime minister may have exceeded his authority. P

Afghanistan:  Comment: A news interview published this week quoted a senior Taliban official as saying the Taliban knows it cannot win a war against NATO. Some press outlets made much of this admission, but the Taliban strategy has never been to win a war against NATO. It has been to wear NATO down, outwait it and  takeover after NATO withdraws. The official was only stating an obvious truth that got taken out of context by the interviewer. 

Syria-Russia: Russia will not support the draft UN Security Council resolution that contains a threat of sanctions against Syria, a Russian official said on 11 July. Russia will not support it because Moscow does not believe the use of sanctions will have an effect on the situation, the official said.

In other developments, Russian navy warships will defend Russian merchant shipping if there is a blockade due to the situation in Syria, a Russian military official said on 11 July. The official said the fleet would be sent to guarantee the safety of the merchant ships and to prevent any interference in the event of a blockade.

Comment: Those news commentators who detected a change in Russian policy because some Syrian opposition members were in Moscow for talks need to rethink their judgments. Russian policy is unchanged.

Egypt: President Mursi in a statement said that he would abide by the ruling of the Supreme Constitutional Court. He called for talks on the constitutional crisis and then flew off to Saudi Arabia today, for his first foreign trip.

Special comment: Mursi's behavior seems erratic, compared to the precision of the promises he made during the campaign.

He promised to fix the five worst problems in Egypt in the first 100 days in office. These are insecurity, owing to the breakdown of law and order in the past 18 months; traffic congestion in Cairo, which increases the costs of labor; fuel shortages so that cabs have imposed a surcharge to cover the cost of waiting in line for petrol for hours; bread shortages - Egypt is one of the world's largest importers of wheat and there is not enough bread at any price; garbage in the streets, including main thoroughfares, posing a risk to public health.

Anecdotal reports indicate many Egyptians voted for Mursi precisely because he promised to fix these five problems.  In fact, the powers of the president are so weak that he never had any prospect of fixing any of those problems. More pertinent is that he has not even mentioned them in his first two weeks in office.

Instead he challenged the armed forces and embarked on a pilgrimage to talk to the Saudi monarch. The challenge to the military was not only ill-advised but totally gratuitous.

The trip to Saudi Arabia stems from the fact that Egypt is nearly broke. Two years ago it was one of the strongest and most diversified economies in the Middle East, registering over 5% growth annually. After 18 months of political strife, Egypt has only enough liquid foreign reserves to cover 6 weeks of imports and the trend is downward.

Mursi is in Saudi Arabia as a beggar. Plus, Mursi's identification of the five worst problems was not accurate. Unemployment and low wages are at least as pressing as the other five, according to a Cairo housewife.

Egypt- Saudi Arabia: Mursi arrived in Saudi Arabia today and is scheduled to meet King Abdullah and Crown Prince Salman. Details of the talks are not likely to be disclosed.

Comment: Saudi Arabia threw an economic lifeline to Egypt in June in the form of a $1 billion loan to support energy imports; a large purchase of Egyptian government bonds; continuing remittances by the 1.7million Egyptians who work in Saudi Arabia and continuing subsidies to the 700,000 plus Saudis in Egypt.

The Saudis may be expected to instruct Mursi about their displeasure with his challenge to the armed forces this week, so early in his tenure. They are also likely to instruct him about the precarious condition of the Egyptian economy, their ability to stop remittances and to recall Saudis in Egypt, both of which would devastate Egyptian state revenues.

Finally, the Saudis probably will instruct Mursi about the benefits of stability and the evils of Iran. More after the visit.

Mauritania-Mali: For the record. The armed forces chiefs of staff from Algeria, Mauritania, Mali and Niger met in Nouakchott, Mauritania, on 11 July, to discuss the security situation in northern Mali.

Comment: All have cooperated in the fight against Islamic terrorists. None want to see northern Mali converted into a base for terrorism, but they lack the logistics and fire support to mount an operation to recover northern Mali. This meeting is likely to lead to a statement of requirements for France and the US.

End of NightWatch ###

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