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Viewpoint: Egypt No Longer Matters

It's time for Washington to recognize that Cairo is not the center of the Arab world
In Sanaa last summer, a senior Yemeni general told me of his recent meeting with visiting American officials. The general had hoped to make the case for greater U.S. aid, military and civilian, for Yemen. But the Americans kept asking him about events in Egypt. They kept saying, What do you think of the Muslim Brotherhood? What are the Egyptian military officers telling you about [Mohamed] Morsi? the general recalled, shaking his head in frustration. I told them, We had our own Arab Spring, now we have a democratic government, we have acute poverty, civil wars and al-Qaeda. Can you please stop talking about Egypt and start talking about Yemen? The general said the Americans did stop asking about Egypt, but only for a short while. Then the questions started up again. They wanted to know if I had been to Cairo, and if I had noticed changes after the overthrow of Mubarak, he said. Americans seem to think that Egypt is the most important thing in the Middle East. It is pretty important, I said politely. No, it was important, he replied, waving a hand over his shoulder. But that was a long, long time ago. (PHOTOS: Clashes Erupt in Egypt as Protesters March Against Earlier Bloodshed) The American political and foreign policy establishment, as well as the media mainstream, tends to view Egypt through the lens of the 1960s and 70s. Back then, Egypt was the fulcrum of the Arab world, unarguably its most important country. It was the source of the regions most compelling postcolonial political idea: Nasserism. Cairo was the cultural center of the Arab peoples, the source of great cinema, TV, music, art, literature. It had a vibrant media scene. Although it lacked the natural resources of a Saudi Arabia or an Iraq, Egypt had, relative to those countries, an abundance of intellectual capital: it was the center for learning, with the regions best universities, both secular and religious. Its labor force was coveted by the newly wealthy Gulf states.

All that and, crucially from the U.S. point of view, Egypt was a threat to Israel. Egypt today is none of those things, and for two reasons: the Middle East has changed, and Egypt has not. Cairo is no longer the regions cultural heart: Egypt doesnt produce great art, music or literature. Arab TV audiences are much more likely now to be watching Turkish soap operas, Lebanese music videos and Qatari satellite news channels. Egyptian universities are now laughably bad, and the Gulf states prefer Indian, Pakistani and Filipino labor to Egyptian. Egypts media scene is a regional joke. (MORE: Turmoil in Egypt: TIME Journalist Gets Caught in Cairos Latest Day of Rage) After decades of mismanagement by corrupt generals and bureaucrats, Egypt is an economic basket case. It has few valuable resources to sell the world, and its mostly impoverished people dont have the money to buy anything from the world, either. Even the Chinese, who arent deterred by political instability or violence, arent exactly queuing up to invest in Egypt. While Egypt has weakened over the past four decades, several other regional players have grown stronger and more ambitious. Some of these Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey are American allies (much of the time, anyway), which means Egypts utility to the U.S. as an interlocutor to the Arab world is greatly diminished. Washington might have valued Egypts support for its efforts in Syria, but an Egypt run by brute generals presiding over the slaughter of their own civilians is hardly a credible partner in dealing with Bashar Assad. As for that other crucial American concern, Egypt is no longer a serious threat to Israel: the balance of military power is entirely lopsided in Israels favor. It was remarkable how quickly Morsi, when he was elected President last year, moved to reassure everyone that he would adhere to the peace treaty between the two countries. All the main constituencies in Egypt (Islamists, liberals and the military) know if they went to war with Israel, their country would be reduced to rubble. (MORE: Egypts Turmoil: How the World Is Reacting to the Bloodshed) Nor is there a great risk that Egypt may endanger Israel by arming or allowing others to arm Hamas in Gaza. For one thing, most Egyptians (the Islamists included) fear and distrust the

Palestinian militants. For another, Israel has demonstrated repeatedly that it is perfectly capable of choking off Hamas supply lines. Can Egypt reclaim its old place as the fulcrum of the Arab world? An opportunity arose two years ago. The Arab Spring was an import from Tunisia, but it once again made Egypt a laboratory of a new, powerful political idea: post-totalitarian democracy. Egypts size meant its democratic experiment would be watched more closely than, say, Libyas. Alas, as weve seen this summer, that experiment has failed. Rather than show the way forward, Egypt is in full retreat. It now falls to Tunisia and Libya to show that the Arab Spring wasnt simply a replay of the Prague Spring. As for Egypt, it seems now that its main relevance in regional and global affairs is as a potential source of trouble. Its combination of instability, corruption and ineptitude makes Egypt fertile soil for radicalism and Islamist militancy. And Washington should treat it as such. It should stop pretending Egypt is an important player in Arab affairs, and pay more attention to countries that are. It should stop giving the generals $1.5 billion a year. That money is better spent on countries where the democratic experiment still has a chance of success. Instead, the U.S. should prepare for the humanitarian crises that will inevitably accompany continued military brutality and economic misery. And it should be alert for the growth of a new al-Qaeda franchise on the Nile. And if that happens, I know a Yemeni general they can ask what to do about it.

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The justice of paradise lost



POSTED ON 08/19/2013 8:49 AM | UPDATED 08/19/2013 10:05 AM

His voice rises, on occasion. He giggles, on occasion. He mutters and interrupts, in a manner that belongs more to the pulpits of certain churches in certain places. He may bow before the altar of justice, but it appears he worships a higher god. By all appearances, Associate Justice Roberto Abad is unhappy with the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law of 2012. He is a moral man, this gentleman in dark robes. The biases seem palpable, in the hours-long interpellation that may or may not imply he believes his court is all

that stands between Gods country and national immorality. He can of course claim his line of questioning is in the pursuit of justice, but if it is not, the logic he offers makes it difficult to keep faith in the High Court. The country is a nation of values, he says at the oral arguments for the RH law. If people, if married couples love each other really to make these sacrifices, and learn also the art of abstinence and love, then that will also work, will it not? The Philippines he seems to imagine is a nation of responsible parents and well-meaning children, content to rein in desire in the name of love. Parents will tenderly offer their children sex education. Women will walk down the aisle virgins. Husbands will not demand marital rights. True love comes with the twinkling of the morning star. It is the paradise before the fall, and the government must stand before its gates, bathed in the glory of God Almighty, a vanguard against the serpent that is sex without responsibility. His honor appears afraid that sex education and access to information will send the country to hell on a handcart, down the slippery slope of pedophilia, prostitution and promiscuity. That pedophilia, promiscuity and prostitution exist, will continue to exist, has continued to exist without a law offering free contraception does not seem relevant. Perhaps he is of the belief that sex is so sacred, so secret, that the merest hint it can exist outside the bonds of marriage and family will prove too tempting for those who otherwise would abstain. I think that is your purpose, he thunders. Teenagers should have sex, go to the schools, should have sex without getting pregnant. It is odd to imagine that dangling a box of pills in front of a teenage girl will send her into spasms of lust. Certainly it is not sex education that makes a tenth of all women between the ages of fifteen to nineteen mothers or pregnant with their first children, or why, for example, there were 2,532 reported teenage pregnancies in 2011. Perhaps the 165th Justice of the High Court is a romantic. He appears to believe that there should be no sex without love. Love can conquer all, including youth, statistics, mortality, and the hot throb of a beating heart. There is no room in this imagined world for absentee mothers, promiscuous lovers, men who rape their wives and fathers who diddle their own daughters. The lesson really is to say to these kids that there is nothing wrong with sex provided you dont get pregnant. I dont think those are the values that we want to put in the hearts of our children. We're not backward! He presents a shopping list of arguments against the law, ranging from contraceptions dangers to the variability of science. He talks about the publics right to information. He talks about the limits of

the governments expertise. He talks about the risk to the population. He concedes that several thousand women may die, but to implant intrauterine devices on 23 million women of childbearing age is not worth the price, never mind that implantation is a choice and not a compulsion. All women, says the justice, have access to information. There is no need for the government to assist them. They are allowed to listen to the radio. They are not prevented from watching television or films. They can avail of books and magazines, ask questions of neighbors, and surf the Internet for answers. We are not so backward that this law can claim it is what women need to give them access to information relevant to reproductive health," he says. "If they want information there are many places to get information. They are not prevented. It is difficult to understand precisely how a mother of nine will have access to a Google search bar or a magazine subscription. It is more difficult to understand why Abad continues to rail about the danger of influencing a gullible Filipino populace, then celebrates the fact that the same gullible populace will acquire sex education from soap operas and radio call-ins. At the center of this insistence on the status quo is a bone-deep belief that sex for its own sake is a fundamental evil. You bring in information that may not be within the values of that family, Abad tells Sen Pia Cayetano. Sex without love. Sex without the values our families keep. READ: Up close and personal The justice appears comfortable speaking about sex, but cannot accept "sex for sexs sake." He may concede that women are dying, he may agree some form of education may be necessary in the loving company of parents, but to imply that sex is possible outside the limits of procreation is a guaranteed travesty of national values. That the idea will be peddled to the youth has him vehement about the evils of the western world, where I think even the age of 5 they are already taught these things. "You can have a sex mate, sex is cheap, when we do all these things, sex becomes cheap. Sexual choices The arguments all end with this, as if saying the words with enough distaste will be enough to make it a violation of the constitution. There are many who believe the same, dragging a reluctant government through the bedroom door to whip the covers off immoral beds.

That is the other slippery slope, the more dangerous one, of the state legislating morality and determining precisely when, why and how an individual should demonstrate intimacy. There is no doubt that the good justice of the High Court is well-meaning in his passionate protection of national purity, but he may be unaware he cannot romanticize a reality that kills 14 women daily and aborts several hundred babies. A democratic government is not in a position to judge its citizenry for its sexual choices; it can only offer protection to those who have none. Unless the constitutionally protected right to individual morality is trumped by the vision of a Catholic nation, the protectors of Gods people may have to remember that in this reality, Eve has eaten the apple, the serpent is in the blood, and the garden is a slum whose gates have long been stolen. -

Why rationalize bad practice? Abolish pork barrel



POSTED ON 08/17/2013 12:39 PM | UPDATED 08/17/2013 4:02 PM

The wheels of justice have started to turn. An arrest warrant has been issued against Janet LimNapoles and her brother. While Napoles and her ilk have to be held accountable for the scam, we should not lose our sight on the bigger, more fundamental problem: how to stop our political system from churning out more Napoleses. That the pork barrel is a source of corruption is an open secret. Many have come to refer to cuts or kickbacks from pork as SOP or standard operating procedure. It is public awareness of this open secret that is now fueling public disgust: people know that their hard-earned taxpayers money is repeatedly being squandered by elected officials. Everyone knows about the roads that lead to nowhere, the funds for fertilizer that were distributed to local governments of non-agricultural highly urbanized cities, the daycare centers without toilets, the substandard roads and bridges, and many others. The list of secrets is very long and quite old. The Napoles scam could simply be the straw that will finally break the camels back. People are not surprised; they're angry and frustrated. Paulit-ulit na lang, kailan ba ito titigil? It is thus alarming and saddening that PNoys earliest response to the scam was simply an off-thecuff sarcastic remark. He first said that the fertilizer fund scam was a bigger scam, obviously insinuating that the Arroyo administration under which that scam unfolded was more fertile ground for corruption.

READ: Pork abolition up to Congress Arroyo, though, did not have a daang matuwid or an anti-corruption campaign. It was PNoy himself that set this bar. Based on this alone, his initial response can be deemed highly inappropriate. Even a local chief executive knows that the ever-reliable this-is-just-an-inherited-problem line has its limits. The Presidents sarcasm is not the greatest cause for alarm, though, because that could just be a communication faux pas that can be easily repaired. It is the Presidents emerging policy preference for reforming the pork barrel system rather than abolishing it that should be contested. In the words of Budget Secretary Butch Abad, The lawmakers who used their pork barrel prudently and well should not be punished for possible infractions committed by some. In 2013, the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), or pork barrel, stood at P24.7B. For 2014, the proposed allocation is P25.2 B. Each member of the House of Representatives will get P70 M while each senator will receive P200 M. Malacaang thus is not keen on abolishing the pork but only on improving safeguards to eliminate pork-related corruption. The Department of Budget and Management is said to be actively working on this matter. The House of Representatives is also not for pork elimination. Marikina Rep Miro Quimbo, head of the House Ways and Means Committee, has been quoted as saying that they are now discussing a number of proposals regarding additional safeguards in the pork barrel system. These proposals include giving the social welfare department the task of accrediting NGO-beneficiaries and setting a cap on the amount of pork barrel projects that will be implemented by the LGUs. But what is the point of improving an inherently anomalous and corrupting practice? Why rationalize bad practice? Abolish the system To my mind, keeping (nay, increasing) the pork barrel given the Napoles scam is tantamount to rewarding bad behavior. It serves no purpose other than keeping the open secret alive and strengthening the norm of calling corruption any other name but. Reforming the pork is not the answer. It is self-defeating to enhance something that is intrinsically undesirable and unnecessary. Abolishing the pork is the reform thats needed.

This reform may not eliminate corruption entirely but it will at least help develop a political culture where money ceases to be the thing that matters the most in policymaking and where a spade is called a spade. Public spending for development is necessary. It has to be made clear that the PDAF as a development fund allocation is not the problem. It is the pork barrel system or the institutional arrangement of having legislators administer the PDAF that is the problem. Below are the reasons why I think this system is inherently anomalous. I also argue that abolishing the pork is not only necessary and desirable, it is also feasible. Distorting the presidential system Under a presidential system of government, the executive and legislative branches are co-equal because they hold distinct but equally prodigious powers. The "power of the sword" belongs solely to the executive while the "power of the purse" belongs solely to the legislature. The budget prepared by the Executive including the PDAF is a policy proposal on public spending that comes into force only upon the approval of the Legislative branch. The budget thus is not an administrative matter but a policy matter. Therefore the budget allocation process is not an administrative process but a political one. Moreover, the legislature holds oversight powers over the implementation of the budget by the Executive branch. The pork barrel system upsets the power-separation arrangement and distorts the presidential system in at least 3 ways. First, the power of the purse belongs to Congress as an institution. It does not belong to its members. What this power means is that only Congress can decide how public money is to be allocated. It does not, in any way, include giving House Representatives members and senators the authority to use public money for purposes other than lawmaking. Second, the pork barrel system undermines the independence of both the Executive and Legislative branches because it promotes collusion and bends the principle of power separation. In this system, the Executive practically offers the Legislature money by way of the inclusion of the PDAF in its proposed budget. This offer itself speaks volumes because both branches very well know that administering development projects is outside the Legislatures mandate. The Legislatures acceptance of said offer by way of approving the inclusion of the PDAF in the General Appropriations Act (GAA) cements the collusion. Third, the pork barrel system creates a conflict-of-interest situation and compromises the oversight function of Congress. Oversight entails impartial and objective scrutiny of administrative performance. Obviously, Congress cannot exercise oversight on itself. There is something intrinsically wrong with a Congress approving allocation/giving money to itself for work that it is not

mandated to perform. This practice might even be illegal under the 1987 Constitution which is very categorical on the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches. Vicious cycle of patronage, weak parties It has been argued that the pork barrel must stay because it is "for the good of the people," i.e., it is good especially for far-flung local communities in dire need of development funds and which, for some reason or another, have not been reached by either their local governments or by the national government. Only the politically nave will take this argument as true. Pork barrel is not for development but for political alliance building. It is one way by which the President or any president for that matter generates majority legislative support. This kind of support generation becomes necessary especially when the President has to rein in on recalcitrant legislators. When the ties that bind the executive and the legislative involve money rather than an agenda or a platform, alliance building transforms into patronage politics. The name of the game then becomes one of wheeling-dealing: pork in exchange of legislative support. This is highly evident in at least two instances: (i) when legislators shift to the camp of the winning President even when they were staunch critics of this President in the previous dispensation, and (ii) when the release of the pork of non-supportive legislators is withheld or delayed by the executive; usually this is used as a bargaining chip when there is intense political or policy contestation. This patronage system cascades all the way down to the local communities and eventually to the individual voter. The legislator, after all, has the discretion to select where the pork will go. Needless to say, the pork goes to supporters and only to supporters or potential supporters. The supporters, meanwhile, continue to vote/re-elect the legislator on the basis of sustained receipt of the pork. Again, money considerations rather than common political ideas come into play in the relationship between the legislator and his/her "constituency." The pork barrel, too, serves as a disincentive for local development planning. Why would a mayor want to take development planning seriously when a lawmaker can step into the process anytime and say she/he wants a water pump here or a farm-to-market road there? Pork-based alliance building has become widespread and sustained primarily because there are no real political parties that could serve as the structural mechanism for building political alliances. Many presidents, senators and congresspersons win not on the basis of a solid political base or faithful following often organized through a party, rather, through a hodge-podge of tentative

supporters gathered through various ways (including patronage). Those who win on the basis of platform or ideology are the exception rather than the rule. The pork barrel arrangement perpetuates the weak party system because it takes out the necessity of legislative voting based on platform or party lines. Only the pork is necessary in the political equation. The system thus renders political parties irrelevant. And so, the vicious cycle of patronage continues. Inherently corrupting The pork barrel system is inherently corrupting because it makes money matter the most in political exercises where ideas are supposed to be the main if not sole consideration. Moreover, the system is inherently non-transparent. This is because pork allocation is fundamentally discretionary the legislator chooses who to give it to and what projects to undertake. Institutionalization of monitoring mechanisms can be very difficult given this level of discretion (read: individual freedom). The system also creates another layer of "bureaucracy" and this is where wheeler-dealers come in. Usually, public funds are disbursed through the national government agencies or the local government units. It is national agency or LGU personnel who deal with contractors who have to go through bidding processes. Under the pork barrel system, the contractors now have to deal as well with legislators. The legislators meanwhile deploy personnel ("operators" or "brokers") to deal with contractors and implementing government agencies. The sheer number of personnel and the disparate nature of processes involved (i.e, from selection to bidding to fund release and implementation) suggest the impossibility of careful appraisal and auditing of each and every PDAF project. The term "pork" is indeed most appropriate. In this system, it is possible for the public to see the development projects, perhaps even the receipts of financial transactions but it is not possible to see who exactly does what or how exactly things are done. In other words, the public sees only the surface and not the inner workings of the system. Pork is fat and fat works exactly in the same manner. One can see the "excess" (bulging skin, love handles, bloated stomachs) but the real fat, the fatty tissues those are hidden inside the body. Possible to remove pork now The removal of the pork requires a simple yet radical political act: non-inclusion of pork in the national budget. This means scrapping the PDAF as a separate or special fund and reallocating it to the more regular budget items.

For the 2014 budget proposal, this means scrapping the PDAF as a budget item and spreading the 25.2M to the budgets of regular agencies or executive projects that are severely underfunded. By doing this, government will hit two birds with one stone: eliminate an intrinsically anomalous practice and retain badly needed funds for development. The budget process thus will now necessitate a debate on "what" rather than "who" should be funded. The fear that such abolition will marginalize constituencies that badly need the PDAF has no basis. In the first place, the Napoles scam already tells us that the funds do not often reach the desired constituencies but simply end up in personal pockets. Lawmakers can still lead their constituencies to the right direction given their participation in the budget process and knowledge of budget allocations. The real risk in pork abolition is not the displacement of development project beneficiaries but the displacement of power holders whose interests have become well-entrenched in the government machinery and in society primarily through patronage. It could also mean the weakening of executive-legislative alliance building. PNoy is likely to experience more difficulty in generating legislative support once the pork this abolished. To me, this hardship seems a small cost to pay to clean up and transform a corrupt, dysfunctional system. Besides, PNoy might be the best President to do this: he continues to hold very high approval ratings (which will of course influence the calculations of legislators), and, there is that political moment, the Napoles moment. More importantly, if PNoy does this, he will be recorded in Philippine history as the President who dared to abolish the pork barrel system. The great political thinker Plato once asserted that justice is not simply about giving a man (pardon the gender bias-language Plato really meant just men) his due for it would be unjust, for example, to give a madman a weapon just because it is his weapon. For Plato, the just society was not simply the "lawful" society. Justice should also be found in the political structures of society and for Plato, these structures must include a clear division of tasks, the harmonious exchange of services and the adequate satisfaction of societal needs. If Plato were around today, he would thus probably say this: By all means, crucify yet another plunderer. But that will not be enough to achieve justice. My political science students in one class, meanwhile, conducted a mock vote: 27 voted for the abolition of the pork and one abstained. The latters abstention turned out to be satirical: Maam, pretend that I am a congressmans son -- why would I want to abolish the pork? It pays for my education.

Another class, this time composed mostly of business management students, raised the concern of the impact of the scam on the already-negative perception of the international community on the level of corruption in the country. As for me taking off my academic hat now and speaking as an ordinary citizen and faithful taxpayer living off a university teachers salary this is what I ultimately want to say: Prosecute Napoles and her cohorts and coddlers (from both the private and public sectors). Abolish the pork barrel system. Otherwise, I demand a corruption rebate. I want my money back. I could use the cash to pay (ridiculously high) electricity bills. -