From Latin America, 'Macho' Leadership Lessons For Post-Arab Spring Egypt

Analysis: An Egyptian scholar delves into the recent history of Latin America, where countries found the tough leaders necessary to move away from military juntas. With the way Egypt is limping toward its first presidential election, such a scenario looks

Dilma Rousseff, from prisoner to president (Wikipedia)
Dilma Rousseff, from prisoner to president (Wikipedia)
Zeinab Abul Magd*

CAIRO - With a stroke of a pen, the Presidential Elections Commission managed to disappoint and deeply frustrate so many Egyptians.

For after the revolution, there has been an increasing demand in the street for a "macho" president, one who can get a firm grip on the country. But the commission excluded all macho candidates from the race and kept only the wimps. This was certainly good news for the military junta, who got rid of frightening characters like Omar Suleiman, Khairat al-Shater and the extremist Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, leaving only weak candidates who could be easily dealt with.

I have just returned from a trip to Brazil, where I attended a workshop on relations between civilians and the military in Latin American countries, which 40 years ago resembled Egypt's situation today.

Back then, they had military regimes that suppressed the opposition and dominated all economic resources. But they succeeded in getting rid of those regimes and brought themselves some macho presidents.

First, I will tell you about how the people of Latin America elected their civilian leaders, and how those legendary presidents pushed the military back to their barracks and punished them for their crimes. Then, I will talk about the crisis of an absence of a macho presidential candidate in Egypt.

In general, military rule kills all its opponents, does not mind destruction in order to maintain its existence and does not care much for the poor or those who sympathize with them.

The military rule in Latin America rose with the help of the United States during the Cold War. At the time, the United States did not want the people there to elect governments that would call for social justice and equity for farmers, or try to undermine the capitalist influence of American companies.

Argentina and Brazil

Argentina was a severe and intractable case of military rule that came to power in 1976 and lasted for 13 years, creating an armed resistance that decided to fight violence with violence.

Thousands of opponents, or rather state enemies, as the junta preferred to call them, either disappeared, were tortured or killed. Among them were students, journalists, workers, university professors or anyone who was considered a leftist for defending the poor.

The army used to raid the cities, kidnap the opposition groups, take them in helicopters and drop them in the river that separates Argentina from Uruguay. The junta systematically suppressed the Argentine workers of American and European automobile factories, such as Ford, Peugeot, Fiat and Mercedes to please the owners of those factories.

The economy collapsed, and in order to distract the attention of the public from the bloodshed and the suffering, the junta waged war on Britain over a disputed piece of land, expecting the United States to stand by them, but it stood by the British, and the military rulers lost both the war and their credibility.

Finally, they had to leave and let the people elect their first civilian president, Raul Alfonsín, in 1983. He was strong from the very beginning, making the punishment of the army for its crimes a central part of his election platform and restoring the rights of the victims immediately after assuming office.

He prosecuted nine leading military figures for violating human rights, and sentenced two junta presidents to life in prison. He also cut the military budget drastically, restructured the military establishment and put it entirety under civilian control.

Yet he pardoned the low-ranking officers, who were only carrying out orders, as they threatened to revolt against the civil state, and ordered compensation for the families of all those who disappeared during the military rule. He thereby maintained the stability of the state.

Brazil has a slightly different story. The army came to power with a coup against an elected leftist president in 1964 and stayed for 20 years. But the junta of Brazil was not as violent or bloody as that of Argentina. Only a few hundred disappeared from the opposition, or were killed during military rule. That is why neither the first elected civilian president nor the people cared to punish them harshly.

Can you imagine a woman taking over in Egypt? That's what's happened in Brazil, where Dilma Rousseff, who had taken part in the guerrilla war against Brazil's military regime, and was arrested and tortured, is now leading the country's rise from poverty to an advanced industrial nation that paid back all its debts to the International Monetary Fund.

Here and now

Today, the role of the Brazilian army is to secure football matches and help the police stop crime. It also runs certain specialized educational institutions, such as the Institute of Aviation Technology, and helps in building roads and bridges and with health projects.

Now let us go back to Egypt. After the exclusions of the Presidential Elections Commission, we have no candidate we might consider macho. No one can face down the military. No one is qualified or has regional and international financial contacts like Shater; nor has influence within the state security institutions and foreign relations like Suleiman. nor can claim hundreds of thousands of followers willing to die for him like Abu Ismail.

From the junta's viewpoint, the remaining candidates conveniently lack the power at home and abroad to threaten the military's privileges.

And now that the elections are no longer "exciting," turnout is expected to be low. The winner will have taken the majority votes of those who bothered to go to the ballots, not necessarily the majority votes of the Egyptian people.

If the elections do take place at all, the junta will congratulate the winner, whoever he is, and go straight back to business as usual.

*Zeinab Abul Magd is a historian. She teaches at the American University in Cairo.

Read the full article in Al-Masry Al-Youm

Photo - Wikipedia

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7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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