Category Archives: Egypt

WISE ON THE MIDDLE EAST

BLOG 485

September 7,  2020

WISE ON THE MIDDLE EAST

Each week Robert L. Wise, Ph.D., explores the Middle Eastern situation, ranging from Egypt through Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and the surrounding area. Wise first traveled to Israel and the neighboring countries in 1968. Two of his sons taught in Jordan and Lebanon universities. Wise presents an objective view of the behind the scenes situation in these countries.

A number of readers have made responses to the previous blog concerning the new Israeli-United Arab Emirates peace agreement. Certainly, it is a signal of changing times with practical implications for the future. Further analysis suggests some of these possibilities.

The agreement is the third peace treaty Israel has signed with an Arab state, but it is the first to contain the promise of a warm peace. This is in sharp contrast to Israel’s relations with prior accord partners Egypt and Jordan, which are limited to very narrow personal, diplomatic, and security relations. With Egypt, the peace treaty has rarely reached even that threshold. Hosni Mubarak, throughout his 30 years of ruling Egypt, never made an official visit to Israel, which is less than an hour’s flight away. In over a decade of rule, King Abdullah of Jordan. has abstained from visiting Israel despite meeting several times with PA head Mahmoud Abbas in nearby Ramallah.

The UAE peace treaty, unlike the treaties with Egypt and Jordan, was signed under quite different conditions. There is a wide expectation that it will be followed by one or more similar pacts with other states, especially other Gulf States and Saudi Arabia. No such expectations accompanied Israel’s peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan.

One major accomplishment has already been achieved by the UAE-Israel agreement. It has been largely overlooked, perhaps because it is a case of what did not happen rather than what did. Even as an El Al plane flew over Saudi Arabian territory carrying a bevy of Israeli officials, businessmen, and investors to the Emirates with the aim of promoting a warm piece, there were no demonstrations of consequence in the Arab world. Amman, Beirut, Tunis, Algiers, and Rabat, where demonstrations against the Israeli “occupation,” the “desecration” of al-Aqsa, and other charges against Israel are generally well-attended, were silent, at least on the street.

For Iran and the violent proxy organizations it supports, the lesson was vivid and painful. Not only was the Palestinian card they have played for decades visibly diminished in importance, but the lack of protest over the Palestinian issue contrasted sharply with the growing level of protest in Lebanon and Iraq regarding Iranian meddling in their internal affairs to the detriment of the native populations.

It is one more sign of long-term processes of political maturation in the Arabic-speaking public. The late senator and former Harvard professor Patrick Moynihan famously said that all politics are local. Indeed, mature democracies are usually characterized by populations that privilege local interests and welfare over universal concerns.

In today’s Middle East, populations are no longer clamoring for pan-Arab unity. They want better social welfare, greater economic opportunity, good education, innovation, the rule of law, and equality before the law at home. The Israel-UAF agreement fits those needs.

YOU MIGHT ENJOY MY NEWEST BOOK HOT OFF THE PRESS
82 DAYS ON OKINAWA
Harper-Collins Publishers
JUST OUT – IT’S A THRILLER!
Col. Art Shaw & Robert L. Wise

You can find 82 DAYS ON OKINAWA at your local book store or on Amazon.

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THE SHIFTING MIDDLE-EASTERN SCENE

BLOG 484
August 24, 2020

deal

WISE ON THE MIDDLE EAST

Each week Robert L. Wise, Ph.D., explores the Middle Eastern situation, ranging from Egypt through Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and the surrounding area. Wise first traveled to Israel and the neighboring countries in 1968. Two of his sons taught in Jordan and Lebanon universities. Wise presents an objective view of the behind the scenes situation in these countries.

THE SHIFTING MIDDLE-EASTERN SCENE

There’s an old joke Jews tell each other. A wealthy man proposed to give a thousand-dollar check to representatives of faith if they could tell him who was the greatest man that ever lived. He asks the Protestant. The man answered, “Martin Luther, the founder of the Reformation.” “Thank you, the wealthy man said, but that’s not what I’m looking for.’ He asks the Roman Catholic and was told, “It is the Pope.” Again, he said this is not the answer. He asks the Rabbi who is the greatest man who ever lived. The Rabbi says, “Jesus.”

“Good heavens!” the wealthy man said. “I was sure you would say Moses.” The Rabbi replied, “Moses is Moses. Business is business.!”

The Rabbi’s answer describes the situation in the entire Middle-East regardless of country or background. They may scream and holler in public, but when they sit down at the business table. Business is business.

Keep that in mind when trying to understand the shift in politics when the Arab Emirates went public on their working with Israel in secret. They had concluded it was in their best interest to come out of the closet and admit they had been doing business with Israel for some time.

The Arab leaders had heard from both Jordan and Egypt about Israel’s reliability and assistance in times of need. Israel had helped shore up Egypt’s problem with terrorist in the Sinai bringing that intrusion to a halt. On the other hand, Arabs had become increasingly disillusioned with Washington not coming to their aid as they once believed American politicians would do. They could see in the last four years that Washington had backed away from stopping Iran’s pursuit of nuclear power or crippling them with sanctions. Israel was now seen as more dependable than America.

Moreover, the Arab Spring brought the recognition that that popular anger at repression and corruption could backfire on them. Old campaign slogans against Israel were going out of style. The real menace was now Iran. Israel had demonstrated they were prepared to halt Iran by themselves if necessary. Because of the longstanding struggle with Iran, the Emirates were now glad to lean on Israel.

Former head of Mossad, Meir Dagan much earlier recognized an intersection of interests in the Arab world with Israel’s concerns. The old problems were dying as new ones emerged. Prejudices were shifting.

Let’s fact it. Business is business.

YOU MIGHT ENJOY MY NEWEST BOOK HOT OFF THE PRESS
82 DAYS ON OKINAWA
Harper-Collins Publishers
JUST OUT – IT’S A THRILLER!
Col. Art Shaw & Robert L. Wise

You can find 82 DAYS ON OKINAWA at your local book store or on Amazon.

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A NEW THREAT

BLOG 480
July 27 2020

war

WISE ON THE MIDDLE EAST

Each week Robert L. Wise, Ph.D., explores the Middle Eastern situation, ranging from Egypt through Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and the surrounding area. Wise first traveled to Israel and the neighboring countries in 1968. Two of his sons taught in Jordan and Lebanon universities. Wise presents an objective view of the behind the scenes situation in these countries.

A NEW THREAT

The American press apparently has not touched an important news story brewing in the Middle East because the covid virus has captured the attention of the public and press. However, a new and possible dangerous situation that continues to brew in the Middle East with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stoking the fire.

The Turkish Ottoman Empire was crushed in World War I. Before that defeat, Turkey had virtually ruled the region including what is today Israel. The Muslim Empire practiced genocide on a million and a half Armenians and were known for their brutality. World War I broke their hold on the Middle East and the British gained control of Palestine. Eventually the Arabs formed countries like Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

Now Erdogan appears to be attempting to revive the past. Questions are now being raised about whether Turkey and Egypt could be headed for a war in Libya. In recent months, Turkey has increased its military intervention in Libya. They are supporting the Tripoli government’s side of a civil war. The Libyan conflict is complex but has implications for which power will gain dominance in the region. Egypt, Turkey,Qatar and even Russia have their eye on the outcome.

Erdogan’s interest is also on increasing Turkey’s statues in the Arab Muslim world. The Turkish President has always tilted toward the Muslim Brotherhood. In recent years, Turkey has also played hardball with Israel probably to gain favor in the Arab world. In contrast, Egypt’s leader General Abdel Fatah al-Sisis kicked the Muslim Brotherhood out of the country back in 2013. Egypt is not likely to be tolerant of Erodgan’s aggressive actions.

One view held in America is that one day Turkey may turn to Iran or Russia. The idea is that the US must give concessions to Turkey to turn them away from Moscow and Tehran. The issue may end with Cairo’s influence. They currently have a military present in Libya. At this point the kettle is only starting to boil, but the water is hot.

Pay attention to what Turkey is up to. It may well have repercussions for the entire Middle East.

YOU MIGHT ENJOY MY NEWEST BOOK HOT OFF THE PRESS
82 DAYS ON OKINAWA
Harper-Collins Publishers
JUST OUT – IT’S A THRILLER!
Col. Art Shaw & Robert L. Wise

You can find 82 DAYS ON OKINAWA at your local book store or on Amazon.

Leave a comment

Filed under Egypt, Gaza, Israel, Palestinians, Russia, Saudi Arabia, The Middle East, Turkey, War

AND  WHAT ABOUT EGYPT?

BLOG 405 October 8, 2018

WISE ON THE MIDDLE EAST ~ Each week Robert L. Wise, PhD, explores the Middle Eastern situation, ranging from Egypt through Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and the surrounding area. Wise first traveled to Israel and the neighboring countries in 1968. Two of his sons taught in Jordan and Lebanon universities. Wise presents an objective view of the behind the scenes situation in these countries.

Egypt hasn’t been in the headlines lately, but that doesn’t mean nothing is going on. Let’s take a second look.

I can never forget the morning I first drove into Cairo with the locals alongside my vehicle. Men rode fifty-year old bicycles next to women on burros. Traditional robes that looked like they had never been washed flapped over sandals worn to the core. A few more affluent appearing business men joined the parade next to a hollowed out wooden cart on rubber tire wheels driven by a bearded guy who must have been 90 years old.

Our parade going to work made a good analogy for contemporary Egypt.

The “Arab Spring” (meaning a new awakening) has become the “Arab Winter” (meaning a return to the past). The man leading the country in the midst of chaos is former general Abel Fattah el-Sissi. While it had been hoped Sissi would prove to be moderate, that has fundamentally not happened. The Egyptian Count just sentenced over 700 demonstrators to death for participation in s public brawl a couple of years ago.  Ousted President Mohamed Morsi remains in jail. The Muslim Brotherhood has been completely outlawed though it remains underground and ready to strike again. Sissi has proven to be a strong man who will not tolerate dissent.

How one views this situation depends on what is brought to the table. The West sees little democracy and views el-Sissi as a dictator. Egypt remains under suspicion. President Obama shut-off aid to the country following the arrest of the former president, but that only sent Sissi’s government looking to Russia and China.  

On the other hand, persons living in Egypt know the country’s instability demands an iron fist at the top. If the Muslim Brotherhood gained control again, the country would be under Muslim Sharia law much like Iran is. The country has too much instability to have a free-wheeling democracy. Police and army control is necessary for balance.

Egypt’s economy has not shown much progress and remains on the down side. On the other hand, Egypt and Israel have developed a good and positive working relationship that puts the Palestinians on the outside. Melania Trump’s just been there and got bad press for her outfit that looked like a business man or colonialist. Come on, folks, who cares what people wear these days.

The story is not over in Egypt. There is much that cannot be foreseen, meaning we will have to watch and see.

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ANGER IN THE MIDDLE EAST

BLOG 402 September 17, 2018 

netanyahu-druze

WISE ON THE MIDDLE EAST Each week Robert L. Wise, PhD., explores the Middle Eastern situation, ranging from Egypt through Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and the  surrounding area. Wise first traveled to Israel and the neighboring countries in 1968. Two of his sons taught in Jordan and Lebanon universities. Wise presents an objective view of the behind the scenes situation in these countries.

Last week we took a look at Israel’s new Nation-State Law that has upset the Arabs and Druze population within Israel. The anger that has boiled over reflects a number of issues now simmering in the region. While this new law was a ‘big deal” to a majority of Israelis, it is seen as exclusive and divisive by both the Arabs and Druze communities within the country.

Israel  has never had a constitution because the religious parties oppose such a document unless it is based on the Torah. The “Basic Laws” document grants universal rights to the citizens and serves much the same purpose. Consequently, this new law pushes the rights of Jews while leaving out these other two groups.

How one feels about the situation depends on one’s presuppositions. Firm supporters of Israel’s right to be a state unto itself will see no problems. On the other hand, people who favor inclusiveness and want no one pushed into a second-class status will not be happy. One side will believe Israel has a right to declare such laws; the other side will cry apartheid.

That’s where the anger starts to get confrontational.

Across the way in Egypt, a Cairo court sentenced 75 people to death for their involvement in the 2013 sit-in protests in Cairo. This included leaders in the now outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. Eight-hundred and seventeen people were killed when security forces broke up the demonstration. You can bet anger will abound!

A photojournalist received a five year sentence for taking pictures of the anti-government protests. He plans to appeal. Amnesty International said the court’s decision was disgraceful and noted that not a single police officer had been brought to trial for killing at least 900 people in the Raban and Nahda protests. They saw the trial as a mockery of justice.

Shortly after the 2013 demonstrations, General Abdel el-Sisi ran for president virtually unopposed and won 97% of the vote. The hope had been that he would softening these crackdowns, but that has not been the case. Such has not followed.

Much like the divided opinion in Israel, Egypt has a great deal of anger that continues to simmer over this situation. In the Middle East, anger does not tend to evaporate and just go away. There will be more to come!

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PUBLIC TRUST

BLOG 387 March 19, 2014

The issue of “so-called Fake” news has reached an all time high with the prompting of the Trump Administration, leaving an impression with the public that their charges are an attempt to cover the real story (whatever that might be). The issue also has ramifications for the Middle East.

A reported in Politico.com indicated 54% of the American public believe the mass media while only 36% believe President Trump and trust his charges above the media. The low figure represents about the same numbers for those who support Trump come hell or high water. In 2016, Israel Democracy Institute index pointed to an all-time low in Israel for the public press. In 2017, the trend was reversed with a 4% rise in trust for the media.

The fact is that people don’t like to read about what they already disagree with. The result is that the bearer of bad news is blamed for the story.

A significant divide also exists in how American political parties feel about Israel. The Pew Research Center found 79% of Republicans sympathetic with Israel compared to 27% of Democrats. Never has there been a greater divide between Democrats and Republicans in 40-years of polling. Americans favorably inclined for Israel are less like to believe a two-state solution is possible. The Pew organization noted that the younger a person is, the more likely they are to believe in the possibility of reaching an agreement.

The issue of trust and honesty in the press came to a head again a week ago when it was discovered that Egypt had ties with North Korea.  The media discovery turned up the fact that missiles made in Pyongyang were being sold in Cairo. The  realization that the Egyptians had a connection with an American enemy angered the State Department.

On an island in the Suez Cannel is a statue presented by North Korea of a towering AK-47 rifle with the muzzle and bayonet pointed toward the sky, symbolizing and enduring alliance. The monument remains as a commemoration of the 1973 war against Israel when a North Korean fought and was killed, flying for Egypt.

The world now knows that Egypt buys armaments from North Korean and has allowed North Korean diplomats to use the Cairo embassy for military sales across the region. Washington is currently down on President Abel Fattah el-Sisis’s case over this situation.

Egypt’s cozy relationship with the US has been severely jarred over these economic transactions with an aggressive country under American sanctions. Tensions are probably ahead because the United Nations will eventually report on the cargo inside a rusty North Korean freighter intercepted off the coast of Egypt in 2016. Apparently, the ship was carrying armaments with 30,000 rocket-propelled grenades worth around $26 million dollars. Egypt has denied being the intended recipient.

So far, this is only the tip of the iceberg. Public trust has been jarred.

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A NEW YEAR!

BLOG 377 January 8, 2018

Wow! We’re in a New Year. Now, that eight days have passed, you’ve probably already forgotten about those resolutions. Whatever – we have a new year of possibilities and problems before us. What shall we say?

The curtain came down on 2017 with riots in the streets of Iran, the longest since 2009. The younger generation and merchants struggling to survive had enough of the regime spending millions on spreading terrorism and building bombs. The latest report indicates ten deaths, and hundreds arrested. Where will this revolt go in 2018? Probably nowhere because several years ago the Revolutionary Guard wiped out the last group of protestors and probably would do so again.

But problems with Iran won’t go away.

The Arab Spring has fairly well turned into winter. In Egypt the economy is no better than it was before all the rioting. Egypt’s currency is now worth less than half what of what it was in 2011. Tourists are staying away. The killings of 395 worshippers in a mosque didn’t help the country.

The Egyptian Christians possibly had an even rougher time.  Hundreds of Muslims attacked a Coptic Christian diocese south of Cairo. The church’s contents were destroyed and members assaulted before security arrived. The Coptic of Egypt may possibly be the oldest institutional expression of Christianity. However, Christians constitute only 10% of the Muslim population. On December 30, a gunman on a motorcycle opened fire on a Coptic Church in a Cairo suburb. Eight Coptic Christians were killed before the lone assassin was felled. President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi tried to prevent yearly attacks, but failed.

Of course, the world is aware of President Trump’s arbitrary decision to move the American Embassy to Jerusalem. The world responded that he further damaged peace negotiations with the Palestinians. Trying to get the United Nations behind the move, America received a rebuke from friends and foes. After the embarrassment, Ambassador Nikki Haley threatened the world that the US was “taking names” and would retaliate financially against everyone in sight. All of which made America look like a bully and further denigrated diplomacy.

Trump’s actions have only isolated Israel further and diminished American’s influence to negotiate for peace. Isolationists could care less while folks struggling for a better world can only mourn.  

With a total unpredictable White House, who can predict what will happen in 2018. Putin will run for office in an already rigged election – but doesn’t take a prophet to predict that result. The rest is up for grabs.

When I was with Pope Francis last June, we discussed the critical situation in the world. The Pope suggested that everyone should pray for peace. I can’t think of a better word for what’s ahead.

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EXPLOSIONS IN EGYPT

BLOG 374 December 4, 2017

The first time I went to Egypt, I was almost overwhelmed by how ancient the entire land is as well as Cairo proved to be. Towns like Bir al-Abd in northern Sinai are equally ancient in appearance as well as fact. Therefore, turning on the television for the morning news and discovering that at least 305 Muslims were killed while praying in a local Bir al-Abd mosque left me speechless. How could this happen?

The West remains stunned by the fact that ISIS terrorists kill Sufi Muslims. The differences between Sufis and Sunnis amounts to contrary opinions about visiting the graves of holy figures, praying to Muslim saints, and worshiping at their tombs. The Sunnis consider this heresy – and therefore a call to arms!

What these distinctions amount to might be compared to the differences between Methodist and Baptists over baptism. One group immerses; the other sprinkles. Therefore, the Baptist round up their members with shot guns and go marching on the Methodist worshiping on Sunday morning. Shooting up the church amounts to purifying the believers. Really?

Sound crazy? Certainly, but the people of Bir Al-Abd are paying for having a divergent viewpoint.

The story within the story is that the villagers were warned to stop collaborating with Egyptian Security forces and suspend their worship. A week before the attack they were warned not to commemorate the birth of the Prophet Mohammad with their rituals. Three weeks earlier, the villagers had detained three suspected militants and handed them over to the security forces. These two issues brought the wrath of ISIS down on the worshippers.

Egypt’s shortcomings in providing security and fighting ISIS were exposed by the militants attack. As a result the government is now under fire for not being more effective. Of course, the war with militants in the Sinai is not a new story. I have commented on this problem in earlier blogs.

The Bir Al-Abd attack may reveal a shift in ISIS targets. In Egypt they seem to be hitting soft areas like the Coptic Christians as well as the Sufis. Their point would be to further undermine President Sisi and the central government.

Coptic Christians remain one of the oldest, if not the oldest, churches in the world even pre-dating Rome. Traditionally, the start of Christendom was 42 CE when St. Mark started the first church in Alexandria. ISIS has already attacked the Coptic Christians.

A sad story indeed to start December! Unfortunately, there will be more to come.

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MORE ON PERSECUTED CHRISTIANS IN EGYPT

Blog 347 April 24, 2017

           A number of readers wanted to know more about last week’s report on the deaths of Coptic Christians in Egypt. Many Westerners have not been acquainted with the ancient Coptic Church than began in 64 CE when St. Mark came to Alexandria and befriended a shoemaker who in time became their first bishop. Where the first church began now stands a great Cathedral with giant chandeliers. Supposedly, the head of Mark is in a vault in the Cathedral.

            As reported last week, ISIS attacked the Christians because they are Christians and particularly vulnerable in Egypt with only 10% of the population in a Muslim oriented country where Muslims have a long history of persecuting Christians.

Muslim President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi visited Pope Tawadros (the name of the head of the Coptic Church) in Cairo on the Thursday after the attack and vowed to apprehend the parties responsible for the killings. A state of emergency was imposed. However, a local Christian resident responded with the accusation that the state of emergency was called not to protect Copts, but to prevent a revolt by them.

For Coptic Christians, this remains an ancient story. Roman Emperors such as Diocletian began persecuting them even in the first century. The remains of many of these martyrs were buried at the Monastery of St. Mina, an hour’s drive from Alexandria. The seven Christians killed in the Sunday massacre were also buried there as a symbol of high honor and sign of respect. Bishop Kyrillos Ava Mina, who leads the monastery, said the seven are now eternally one with the heroic deaths of Christians through the centuries.

Will this killing stop? Coptics say no. ISIS has only become a new part of the destructive equation. The issues with the Egyptian government and police are both ineptitude and indifference. Christian experience from across the entire country ranges from apathetic shrugs to outright discrimination. Few Christians ever serve in the top ranks of the military and academia. Egyptian expert at New York’s Century Foundation, Michael Wahid Hanna notes that the highest-ranking people in the country will never be Christians.

You are probably asking yourself, “How can this be?” May I recommend a movie that I am telling everyone to see. The Promise is a current well-done movie that is emotionally powerful. The story starts at the beginning of World War I. The basic plot is about what the Muslim Turks did to the Christian Armenians. Once you’ve followed the story line, you will have a deeper insight into what today’s Coptic Christians face in Egypt.

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CHRISTIANS CAUGHT IN THE CROSSFIRE

Blog 346 April 18, 2017

            Before we start, I need to inform you of a change. Cancel the internet radio show! I had too much trouble in getting an acceptable quality of sound – among other things. So, I am shutting down that operation. Moreover, this summer I am beginning a new website that will fascinate you to no end. The time required for these efforts makes the radio broadcast marginal. Stay tuned for future information on the new website.

Since this is Easter weekend, I am taking a break from the ominous events boiling in North Korea and Syria for a closer look at the Christian experience. Sorry to say that being a Christian in the Middle East is dangerous business. If you follow the regular media, you read of the attack on Coptic Christians in Egypt. Making up only 10% of the population, (about 9 million) they are highly vulnerable to attacks by the Muslim majority. I have known some of these Coptis and found them to be fine, sensitive Christians. I have a deep concern for the price they pay for their faith.

Coptis date their origins to St. Mark working in Alexandria during the reign of Roman Emperor Claudius around the year 42 CE. (only 9 years after the Resurrection). They are arguably the oldest Christian community in the world.

ISIS has called Middle Eastern Christians their “favorite prey.” In December, twenty Egyptian Copts (mostly women and children) were massacred in their church by ISIS. Many more were wounded. Such horrendous incidents are not only an ongoing struggle of Christians for their faith, but they also offer a measure of insight into how Arab governments respond to persecution and hate crimes – particularly against Christians and similar minorities.

Recently, ISIS produced a “hit list” of Christians it intends to murder. So far seven have been murdered with one beheading. One person was burned alive. A father and son were dumped on the side of the road after the father was shot and the boy burned alive. These acts reflect a Muslim symbol, saying that the victims do not even deserve human burial, but should be left to be eaten by animals. ISIS sees all Christians in this light.

And how is Egyptian President al-Sisi responding? Hardly a blip in the media. Since the Copts aren’t considered by him to be in the mainstream, they get little attention. Because the Copts have no presence in the West, there is no one to take up their cry for protection. Copts are Orthodox Christians and not connected to Roman Catholic and Protestants groups. Strangely enough, the only people who seriously take up their cause are Jews in Israel. Israelis know that if such atrocities go unnoticed, they could well be next. Israelis know that only moderate regimes can keep the region stable. Protecting Christians is protecting Israel and the region.

A necessary if unhappy message for this year’s Easter.

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