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Does This Man Have The World's Toughest Job? Meet The Mayor Of Kabul

Muhammad Yunus Nawandish spent 30 years working in anonymity as an energy-sector engineer, until the call came with an offer he couldn't refuse. Now, leading his ever complicated home city means putting his past experience to work, like lighting

Kabul Mayor Muhammad Yunus Nawandish before the Solar Street Light Project (isafmedia)
Kabul Mayor Muhammad Yunus Nawandish before the Solar Street Light Project (isafmedia)
Luis Lema

KABUL - They came from every corner, children holding their parents' hands, their eyes wide open with amazement. A hope, a symbol, a revolution around the corner: when the first streetlights began to light up, it was not only the end of decades of complete darkness in the Afghan capital, it was also a promise of new life.

But Kabul's street lighting is just one issue among thousand that Mayor Muhammad Yunus Nawandish must face, day and night. If a list of the world's most complicated jobs was compiled, "Mayor of Kabul" would be near the top. But Muhammad Yunus Nawandish insists it's also one of the most rewarding: "For the past 30 years, the people of this country lived under constant pressure. And all of a sudden, cheerfulness and joy can be part of their lives again. It's a completely different psychological state."

But dealing with street lighting can seem pointless in a city constantly at war, like Kabul. "The situation is different from what is described in the media," the mayor said in a recent interview. "Security is getting better and the international community is starting to understand that Kabul is a city like every other city in the world, with normal people living in it. There has been constant progress."

Muhammad Nawandish wasn't supposed to become Kabul's mayor. With a 30-year career as an engineer, specialized in Afghanistan's oil, gas and electricity fields, he was not part of the country's political scene. When Afghan President Hamid Karzai offered him the Kabul mayor's job, he refused at first, but then reconsidered. "Someone had to do it. I owe my country this involvement."

Usually, the mayor is elected, but in a city lacking just about everything, there wasn't money to organize an election. Thus Nawandish was appointed to the job in early 2010, after the former mayor, Mir Abdul Ahad Sahebi, was accused of corruption. He is currently in jail.

Nawandish's days begin at 5 a.m. and end 15 hours later. When night falls, he inspects construction sites by himself, to check work is being done as expected. This ritual has made him very popular: when he walks the streets, people shout "Long live the mayor!", he boasts with a smile.

A bulging city

Reconstructing the city is a huge task in itself. In the two years since Nawandish took over the mayor's job, his list of completed projects includes six bridges, the paving of hundreds of kilometers of roadway, 22 new parks and a million trees planted. But Kabul has also increasingly become a magnet for the whole nation's population. In 1979, 1.2 million people were living in the capital. Today, they are more than five million. Under pressure from this economic migration, houses spring up in a ramshackle way, without plans, water connections, or nearby schools and parks.

"It's very difficult to turn this informal city into an organized one. And very expensive too," the mayor explains. Then, there are also the local crime outfits that profit from the city's chaos, and frowns upon the mayor's activities. "At the beginning, the mafia wanted to buy me. As soon as they realized it was impossible, they began to use this money to try to destroy me."

As an engineer, Nawandish has the unique background to question the materials used or why it's better to use LED street lighting than traditional incandescent light bulbs. "It seems like nothing, but because of the frequent brown-out periods, traditional light bulbs used to explode all the time."

Now work days can be longer, and people can invest more in their own homes and property. "They also care more about their neighbors because they want to keep their property intact." A virtuous circle that makes this engineer a happy mayor indeed.

Read the original article in French

Photo - isafmedia

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Geopolitics

Patronage Or Politics? What's Driving Qatar And Egypt Grand Rapprochement

For Cairo, Qatar had been part of an “axis of evil,” with anger directed at Al Jazeera, the main Qatari outlet, and others critical of Egypt after the Muslim Brotherhood ouster. But the vitriol is now gone, with the first ever visit by Egyptian President al-Sisi to Doha.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi met with the Emir of Qatar in June 2022 in Cairo

Beesan Kassab, Daniel O'Connell, Ehsan Salah, Hazem Tharwat and Najih Dawoud

For the first time since coming to power in 2014, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi traveled to Doha last month on an official visit, a capstone in a steadily building rapprochement between the two countries in the last year.

Not long ago, however, the photo-op capturing the two heads of state smiling at one another in Doha would have seemed impossible. In the wake of the Armed Forces’ ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood government in 2013, Qatar and Egypt traded barbs.

In the lexicon of the intelligence-controlled Egyptian press landscape, Qatar had been part of an “axis of evil” working to undermine Egypt’s stability. Al Jazeera, the main Qatari outlet, was banned from Egypt, but, from its social media accounts and television broadcast, it regularly published salacious and insulting details about the Egyptian administration.

But all of that vitriol is now gone.

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