Egypt’s president Mohamed Morsi on Tuesday appointed Adel Mohamed al-Khayat - a member of ex-terrorist group of terrorist group Gamaa Al-Islamiya – as governor of one Luxor, one of Egypt’s most important tourist districts.
Egypt’s Tourism Minister Hisham Zaazou resigned upon hearing the announcement, but his resignation was not accepted by Egypt’s Prime Minister.
Gamaa Al-Islamiya renounced violence in 2003 (though it remains politically opposed to tourism). Six years before, in 1997, it was responsible for a massacre of tourists at the Temple of Hatshepsut, the largest and most deadly attack on tourists in Egypt’s history. Snipers hid in the hills surrounding the temple, and gunned down 62 people, most of which were Swiss tourists. Khayat was one of the terrorist group’s leaders at the time.
The 1997 massacre shocked Egypt. It was widely and repeatedly condemned by most segments of Egyptian society, and the vehemence of the reaction to it was instrumental in bringing most of Egypt’s Islamist organisations, including Gamaa Al-Islamiya, to renounce the use of violence in achieving their political goals.
Gamaa Al-Islamiya is still considered a terrorist organisation by many Western governments. However, it is distinct from Jemaah Islamiah, which was responsible for the 2002 Bali bombing in Indonesia.
Luxor is Egypt’s largest tourist district after Cairo, and has many of Egypt’s historical temples and burial grounds, including the Temple of Karnak, the pharaonic capital Thebes, and The Valley of the Kings. It’s a politically conservative district which gave three of its four parliamentary seats to Islamists in the last (2012) election. However, tourism is its largest source of income, a fact that hasn’t gone unnoticed by Luxor’s residents, many of whom don’t approve of the new governor.
But it’s not just Luxor that relies on tourism. It contributed 12% to Egypt’s GDP in 2010, and fell 30% in 2011, following the revolution. Economic factors (young people couldn’t get jobs) were a key cause of the revolution, and since then, the economy hasn’t improved. Economic growth has slowed form 5% to 2%, which is about how fast Egypt’s population is growing.
And to make things worse, the Egyptian government has huge spending commitments and due to a broken taxation system, not much money coming in. It reached a preliminary agreement with the IMF in November only to backtrack on that deal, instead financing its current account deficit with short-term loans from Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Libya and Qatar.
But matters of finance must be far from Morsi’s mind. Just one year after he took office, the president’s approval rating has plunged from 70% to 30%.
Activists are hoping for a huge turnout to their demonstration on June 30, the one-year anniversary of Morsi’s coronation. They hope it will send a message, or oust him entirely.
It’ll probably all fizzle out. But if Morsi’s tone-deaf appointments aren’t doing much to shore up support.
Advertising powers much of the internet. It pays for journalism and other media. But there’s a problem with advertising and an easy solution. Where does this leave me?
I’ve never liked online ads, for one simple reason.
Ads slow down the internet and download huge quantities of data, at the expense of the user experience.
Without ad-blocking software (the most famous of which, Adblock, is freely available), every page takes longer to load. It means I can barely view some sites on my mobile browser, or on a slowly dying laptop I use. Ads waste my time and try my patience. At least once a day when I haven’t yet installed Adblock on a new machine, an ad will fill up my screen and make it impossible for me to continue to view a page. I don’t mind this so much if the ad is timed, but often I can’t even get the ad to go away after a period.
Basically, ads unambiguously make the internet worse. But they also pay for large parts of it, and this means they pose a moral problem for people like me who work in the media.
I’m sure I’m not the only tourist in Istanbul right now. In case other people aren’t sure whether it’s safe to come here, I thought I’d write up a corporate security team told me when I asked them about safety a few hours ago.
Basically, Istanbul is split into three areas, and the one with most of the touristy sites (Old Istanbul) has seen the fewest protests.
The security guys said the best thing to do was just read the news every few hours to see what’s developing.
You should also keep your eyes and ears open where you are. If lots of people start grouping, that could be a protest developing. And if you see police putting on riot gear, well, get out of there as fast as you can.
Overall, the security team took more care to warn me about pickpockets rather than protests in Old Istanbul.
The Australian government’s Safe Traveler website isn’t currently advising against travel to Istanbul, but it is telling visitors to take care. Which seemed to be the attitude I got from the experts I asked today.
Naturally, these situations tend to develop pretty quickly, so the best thing to do is just stay informed about how things are changing.
There’s a new term getting bandied around about Australia’s fiscal situation. It’s ‘structural deficit’, and it means that even though our economy is growing near its long-run average rate, our ratio of taxes to benefits doesn’t add up.
Meanwhile, our government is expanding its future commitments to us. This will cost it money, which ultimately has to come from us one way or another.
I think a lot of the government’s reforms are good. They’re the kind of things you can’t rely on the private sector to provide, and they act as insurance for all of us, saving us from the perils of fortune as we go through our lives. Insurance, of which the NDIS is a fabulous example, is good. One of the things I most like about living in an advanced democracy is that it helps smooth out the highs and lows of our lives.
But not all government spending is good. Two industries cost our federal budget billions every year in ways that do not benefit us and distort and hamstring our economy. Governments of both stripes appear politically powerless to reform these two industries.
But this is a fantasy budget, so I don’t have to worry about that.
If I could write our federal budget, I would smash the housing and medical industries.
On the face of it, both of these are ‘good’ industries, providing services and products that we very much like and want more of. But they have too much political power, and it’s resulted in less than ideal outcomes for all of us.
On housing, I would remove negative gearing on mortgages. This allows people to buy houses worth more than they can comfortably repay, and then shift that repayment responsibility onto the government through tax concessions. We end up subsidising large mortgages and investment properties. And that’s not something we should be doing. It benefits the landed and rich over the young and poor, and feeds housing prices already at historical highs when compared to average incomes.
According to ABS data, negative gearing allows people to avoid paying taxes to the tune of $3 billion a year. That’s money I’d rather went to something else.
I’d also remove all homeowner’s grants. Some of these do good, but this is a market where the problem is inflated pricing. Giving people more money to spend on their housing is not the answer.
When I did that, I would tackle health spending.
Health spending is a huge issue because it takes up a quarter of the budget and that share is growing.
So to save money, I’d work on the premise that if you’re not in financial need, you should contribute to your own healthcare. As a payoff for doing this, you get the NDIS, which will cover the most serious of acquired injuries. It’s a good trade in my opinion.
We currently use more healthcare than we need. Bulk-billing GPs have more patients than they can handle, and many of their patients do not really need to see them.
So here’s the idea: If you don’t have a Healthcare card, you have to pay a minimum of $10 per GP visit.
That’s it for doctors. Next: big pharma.
I’d appoint the driest, most hard-bitten economist I could find to head a body tasked with finding savings in Australia’s pharmaceutical benefits scheme.
First on the radar would be cases like this. The Global Mail recently ran an article about how Novartis, one of the world’s largest drug companies, pedals two drugs that are pretty identical when it comes to treating age-related macular degeneration. The difference? One costs a fortune, and is pushed to Western nations. The other one is cheap.
In economics, this is known as pricing discrimination, and is a way to boost producer surplus (i.e. sell to as many people as possible for the maximum each of those people is willing to pay). When it comes to paying for drugs, the government shouldn’t stand for it.
I’m not sure how much money could be saved from a far tougher stance on pharmaceuticals. But I think it’d be a lot. And given healthcare is such a big part of our government spending, any savings here are big money.
This is inspired by Crikey’s fantasy budget series. Plenty more fantasy budgets are available behind the Crikey paywall.
There’s been a small but quality stream of writing about the role of RSL (Returned Service Leagues) clubs in Australia in recent weeks.
In this piece in the University of Melbourne’s The Citizen, Masters student Jack Latimore writes about how RSL’s are struggling to attract the Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans:
Rod Thompson, the national entitlement officer for the Younger Veterans Outreach Program, said: “When I was involved with the RSL, I was a sub-branch secretary. The attitude was: ‘Don’t rock the boat, the old fellas don’t like change and your membership is welcome but your opinion is not’.
“The RSL is seen as something from the past. There are attitudes, a generational change that has not been embraced.”
That’s the most damning quote from what is overall a thoughtful and, to my eye, balanced piece.
Earlier, there was a good piece in Crikey about the relationship between RSLs and the pokies-filled clubs that bear their name, which isn’t anywhere as clear-cut or as positive as you would presume.
The broader context for all this is in Amber Jamieson’s excellent Crikey series on mental health in the military. RSL clubs are meant to be a form of support. Many young vets aren’t getting anywhere near the help they need, she found. The military probably bears more blame for this than RSLs, but it’s worth keeping in mind.
Photo: North Sydney RSL sub-branch club in the 1940s