Khamis, 4 Julai 2013

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EGYPT UPDATE: After 80-year wait, Brotherhood blows shot at power

Posted: 03 Jul 2013 09:40 PM PDT

Founded in 1928, the Brotherhood had a stated aim of creating an "Islamic generation" as the foundation of a state ruled by sharia, or Islamic law. Its long wait finally paid off at the 2012 presidential election, when Morsi defeated former air force chief Ahmed Shafiq in a run-off.

(AFP) - CAIRO: Having waited for over 80 years, Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood secured power when Mohamed Morsi was elected president, but it can only blame itself after being ousted just 12 months later, analysts say.

Opponents of Morsi accused him of failing the 2011 revolution that toppled dictator Hosni Mubarak by concentrating power in the hands of his Muslim Brotherhood, while failing to deal with a spiralling economic crisis.

As the world debated whether the military move to end his rule on Wednesday amounted to a real coup, analysts agreed on one thing — Morsi and the Islamist movement brought about their own rapid decline by themselves.

Morsi and the Brotherhood "utterly failed in (the) past year Egyptians asked for military coup (and) they got one," tweeted Salman Shaikh, analyst at  the Brookings Doha Center.

The Brotherhood, after first looking on from the sidelines, later joined the 18-day popular uprising inspired by the Arab Spring that forced out strongman Mubarak on February 11, 2011.

It then fielded a candidate for the country's first democratic presidential election last year, with Morsi carrying its baton after the candidacy of the Brotherhood's first-choice, Khairat El-Shater, was rejected.

Morsi came out on top in the election, bringing the Islamist movement out of the shadows after it had endured decades of bans and repeated crackdowns under Mubarak's iron-fisted rule.

Analyst Nathan Brown said: "The Morsi presidency is without a doubt one of the most colossal failures in the Brotherhood's history."   

Even allies of the Brotherhood criticised Morsi and the Islamist movement for they way they tried to run the country.

"The president procrastinated. His group lost any real opportunities to build a national base that would have isolated the counter-revolution," said Mohammed Mahsub, a senior leader of the Al-Wasat party.

"The guidance bureau of the Brotherhood bares responsibility for the downfall," added Mahsub.

Founded in 1928, the Brotherhood had a stated aim of creating an "Islamic generation" as the foundation of a state ruled by sharia, or Islamic law.

Its long wait finally paid off at the 2012 presidential election, when Morsi defeated former air force chief Ahmed Shafiq in a run-off.

After taking the oath of office on June 30 last year, he slowly began to impose himself on the political scene, eventually granting himself sweeping powers in November.

That move prompted prominent opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei to accuse him of usurping authority and becoming a "new pharoah" and saw the first  protests against his rule.

A month later, he aggravated the situation by ramming through a controversial constitution drafted by a panel that was dominated by Islamists and boycotted by liberals and Christians.

Ultimately, however, Morsi and the Brotherhood squandered their chance at  the helm by failing to govern for all Egyptians, address the economic crisis and win over the trust of the powerful military.

"Yes, it is true that the Brotherhood did well in elections; that it was not able to govern fully but still saddled with responsibility for Egypt's insurmountable problems," the analyst Brown wrote on the New Republic website.

"It is also undeniable that Morsi and the Brotherhood made almost every conceivable mistake such as reaching too quickly for political power or failing to build coalitions with others.

"They alienated potential allies, ignored rising discontent, focused more on consolidating their rule than on using what tools they did have, used rhetoric that was tone deaf at best and threatening at worst," wrote Brown.

US intelligence firm Stratfor said, however, that the military also played a major role in the downfall of Morsi and the Brotherhood.

"Morsi never really took control of the machinery of government, partly because he was politically weak, partly because the Muslim Brotherhood was not ready to govern, and partly because the military never quite let go," it said in an analysis posted on its website.

In the end, "the military did not want to see chaos the military distrusted the Muslim Brotherhood and was happy to see it forced out of office."

Slash-and-burn a way of life on Indonesia’s Sumatra

Posted: 03 Jul 2013 01:34 PM PDT

While the blazes last month cloaked Singapore and Malaysia in toxic haze and provoked howls of outrage from environmental groups, many on Sumatra, from plantation workers to villagers like Saparina, are die-hard supporters of using fires to clear land.

(AFP) - The ground was still hot and smoke hung in the air when Saparina set out to plant her spinach in the ashen remains of rainforest on Indonesia's Sumatra island, where raging fires triggered Southeast Asia's worst smog crisis in years.

The farmer waded through ankle-deep ash as she laid out her crops in fire-blackened earth among charred tree stumps on land cleared by the illegal method of slash-and-burn.

"I give thanks to God, now I can easily plant vegetables and oil palms," said the 36-year-old, who only gave one name, her feet still dirty after planting the crops in her half-hectare plot of land in Riau province.

While the blazes last month cloaked Singapore and Malaysia in toxic haze and provoked howls of outrage from environmental groups, many on Sumatra, from plantation workers to villagers like Saparina, are die-hard supporters of using fires to clear land.

It is the quickest and cheapest method of clearance for cultivation—far less expensive than using mechanical excavators or bulldozers—and the ash from fires is also a natural fertiliser.

As the haze clears, authorities are turning their attention from firefighting to trying to catch the culprits. For many, the focus remains firmly on big palm oil and pulp and paper firms.

Global demand in particular for palm oil—used in everyday goods from soap, to lipstick to biscuits—is booming, and rapid expansion of plantations is behind much of Sumatra's deforestation.

Nevertheless, the common acceptance of slash-and-burn clearances among smallholders suggests that blame is widely spread, even if big companies often buy the palm oil fruit produced on the smaller, private farms.

Small farmers clearing their own land, people paid to quietly flick a match onto a concession owned by a big company, and major companies themselves are all starting fires, activists say.

This year's fires pushed haze to record levels in Singapore, forcing residents to don facemasks and stay indoors.

They also raised diplomatic temperatures, with both Singapore and Malaysia calling on Indonesia to do more to stop the problem.

But many on Sumatra see little alternative.

"Burning is obligatory," said Herman, the owner of a small palm oil plantation who declined to give his full name.

"Who would want to cut huge trees with their own hands to clear land? The trees are enormous."

Once the fires start they often burn deep underground in deposits of carbon-rich peat, and are notoriously difficult to put out.

Firefighters have had to resort to sticking hoses deep into the ground to douse blazes that have spread across thousands of hectares.

"It takes only a flick of a cigarette butt to create a big fire, especially in the dry season," Herman said.

"The fire travels like water flowing beneath our feet—you have no idea where it might resurface and burn the land above."

The continued enthusiasm for slash-and-burn comes despite chronic health problems—nearly 20,000 people in Riau suffered breathing difficulties in June due to the haze, according to a local health official.

Saparina, who insisted she does not start fires herself, conceded her children were "coughing at home" while she was out planting.

With the annual haze from forest fires on Sumatra the worst this year since 1997-98, Jakarta is under pressure to take action.

Police have so far named 24 small farmers suspected of starting the fires.

Authorities have not said that any of them are from a major plantation company but they are looking into possible links.

Government officials have said some fires took place within the boundaries of concessions owned by big companies and are investigating eight firms.

Many companies have insisted they have strict "zero burning" policies and that any fires in their concessions must have crept in from outside.

But proving who really set the fires is a daunting task for police in a huge province where many plantation workers and residents seem to have a cigarette permanently dangling from their lips, 50 percent of the land is peat, and using fires to clear land is part of life.

Some now argue that the law banning land clearance by fire is unrealistic and should be replaced with government-regulated controlled burning.

"I believe law enforcement alone does not work," said Willem Rampangilei, the deputy minister for people's welfare in the national government. "We tried to stop the tradition but it's impossible."

Environmental groups such as Greenpeace insist the government must enforce existing laws banning slash-and-burn more effectively.

"The continuing practice of clearing land with fire is just the tip of the iceberg of Indonesia's flawed natural resources management," said Yuyun Indradi, a forest campaigner with Greenpeace Indonesia. 


Twists and turns in lowering car prices

Posted: 03 Jul 2013 01:12 PM PDT

Lim Sue Goan, MySinChew

Deputy International Trade and Industry Minister Hamim Samuri told the Dewan Rakyat that the government has no plan to cut excise duty on imported cars for the time being. How is the BN going to gradually reduce car prices by 20 per cent to 30 per cent in five years as promised in its election manifesto?

The excise duty ranging from 65 per cent to 105 per cent contributes some RM7 billion in revenue to the government every year. As the government has to reduce the fiscal deficit, increase the salaries of civil servants in July and continue the BR1M aid, while it is impossible to implement the goods and services tax (GST) this year, International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed said that the government cannot afford to give up the excise duty.

The government's wishful thinking is to reduce car prices through "market forces", namely to intensify competition in the market, forcing foreign automakers to use more local components to reduce production costs. Moreover, the five-year term is long and they could still develop other strategies if this one fails.

The government has significantly reduced the prices of national cars through Proton Holdings Bhd. The new Saga SV was priced at from RM33,438, about 12 per cent cheaper than the previous model Saga FLX, in an effort to create pressure on other brands in the market.

However, Proton is having a different customer base compared to other brands. Those who buy Proton cars take prices as the main consideration while those buying other brands attach importance to quality. It requires further observation to say whether the price cut of Proton will bring pressure to the market. However, Perusahaan Otomobil Kedua Sdn Bhd (Perodua) has no intention to follow suit.

Its CEO Datuk Aminar Rashid Salleh said that instead of following the footsteps of Proton to reduce car prices, Perodua will focus on reducing the burden of car owners.

Even the second national car maker is not going to reduce prices, I believe that foreign car makers would not follow either.

Another strategy of the ministry would be to encourage car manufacturers to use more local components. Using more local components means paying less excise tax. Moreover, they are required to bear also the import duties imposed on important components. Currently, foreign cars are using 30 per cent to 40 per cent of local components while national cars are using up to 80 per cent to 90 per cent.

However, increasing the use of local components might sacrifice quality, and can prices be certainly reduced by making such a move?

Utusan Malaysia reported on its front page that the prices of 10 national and foreign car models have been cut by up to 11 per cent this year. Carmakers, however, refuted the claim and explained that prices are lowered as pre-festive promotions and stock-clearing are being conducted, instead of because of a price reduction policy.

Since the government has promised to reduce car prices by 20 per cent to 30 per cent many consumers have shelved their car purchasing plans and are waiting for a price cut. Car sales in April this year decreased by 8.9 per cent or 5,133 units compared to March and it also dropped by 5.4 per cent or 2,855 units in May. Although some people are patient enough to wait, some others doubt whether car prices would be reduced this year.

Perhaps, the people can wait for the release of the new National Automotive Policy (NAP). However, since there are too many "crying wolf" stories, the expectation should not be too high.

If the government wants to honour its commitments, the most straightforward approach is to change the policy, abolish protectionism and lower the excise tax. How said it is if it still fails to win praise from the people even after making so many efforts? 


From prison to Egyptian presidency

Posted: 03 Jul 2013 01:04 PM PDT

Morsi being escorted out of the palace after being toppled

(AFP) - Egypt's first freely elected president Mohamed Morsi, who was toppled in a coup yesterday, is a veteran Islamist who is no stranger to underground politics having broken out of jail just 30 months ago.

As the army rounded up hundreds of his comrades from the Muslim Brotherhood, Morsi's own whereabouts remained unclear.

But he seemed destined to return to the largely clandestine existence in and out of jail that he led through three decades of ousted president Hosni Mubarak's authoritarian rule when the movement was outlawed, if tolerated within certain bounds.

During Morsi's first entry onto the national political stage in 2000 when he was elected to parliament, Morsi was forced to stand as an independent because of the Mubarak-era ban on the Brotherhood.

During his 12-month tenure of Egypt's highest office, there were no such constraints on his politics, and it was his alleged partisanship towards the Brotherhood that was ultimately to prove his undoing.

Millions took to the streets on Sunday in response to a grassroots campaign accusing him of breaking his promise to be a "president for all Egyptians" and of failing the ideals of the 2011 revolution.

Morsi remained defiant to the end, insisting on the legitimacy of his election in June last year when he defeated several of the main opposition leaders. But he had to do so through pre-recorded messages posted on the Internet or aired by independent television channels.

It was a far cry from the rapturous reception he was given by adoring crowds in Cairo's Tahrir Square less than 13 months ago, when he was feted as a revolutionary champion.

Then his informal style and colloquial speech earned plaudits from a public estranged by the stiff, pharaonesque aloofness of Mubarak-era officials.

But when he took to the microphone late on Tuesday for his final address to the nation as head of state, his rambling unscripted delivery appeared unpresidential and the tens of thousands of protesters camped out on the streets united in disavowing him as their leader.

Morsi was not the Brotherhood's first choice as candidate for the presidency - that decision went to the more charismatic Khairat El-Shater. But Shater was barred from standing because of a past prison sentence.

Morsi, now 61, had been the spokesman of the Brotherhood from 2010, which gave him public recognition.

He was arrested on January 28, 2011, the day after the Brotherhood threw its weight behind the protests against Mubarak.

It was not his first spell behind bars. He had already served seven months in 2006 for taking part in a demonstration in support of reformist judges.

He was among dozens of Islamist prisoners sprung from jails around the country during the collapse of public order that accompanied the revolution.

His failure to address the resulting insecurity and its devastating impact on the economy and Egypt's once lucrative tourism industry was a major factor in his plummeting esteem as president.

Scores died in persistent political violence, many more in criminal activity, dashing the hopes of the Arab Spring for a better, more prosperous Egypt.

During Morsi's presidency a number of recordings emerged of remarks he had made during his period underground that his critics judged as anti-Semitic.

But during his presidency he made good on his election promise to leave Egypt's 1979 peace treaty with Israel untouched despite his gut sympathy with the Islamist Hamas rulers of Gaza.

He also kept up Cairo's longstanding defence ties with Washington which earn it $1.3 billion (RM4.1 billion) a year in US military aid, assistance called into doubt by President Barack Obama after yesterday's coup.

Morsi received a PhD from the University of Southern California, where he was also an assistant professor in 1982.

He had graduated with an engineering degree from Cairo University in 1975.

Morsi is married, with five children and three grandchildren.



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