Egypt's pyramids are not for sale

While the financial outlook in Egypt is grim, the nation's treasures won't be sold off, an Arabic-language commentator says. Other topics: arming Syria's opposition and the future of Arabic.

Egyptians are in financial distress but they are not selling their pyramids to the Qataris yet

Rumour has it that the Qataris are out to buy the pyramids from the Egyptians, columnist Abdul Rahman Al Rashed wrote in yesterday's edition of the Saudi-owned newspaper Asharq Al Awsat.

There has been another amusing rumour that the Qataris have made a bid to buy the Suez Canal. It is said that the bid was made to the deputy supreme guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, Khairat Al Shater.

"Think of it in the context of a globalised world, it won't be that bizarre if it happens," Al Rashed observed. "Remember Harrod's, the most important department store in Europe, and one of London's historic icons? It was bought by the Egyptian businessman Mohamed Al Fayed, who owned it for a quarter of a century before selling it, three years ago, to Qatar at £1.5 billion."

What is so wrong, then, with the Egyptians selling off the Suez Canal or the pyramids to the Qataris, who have enough hard currency to resolve Egypt's critical budget deficit? Decades ago, the Egyptians sold the Brits their shares in the Suez Canal? The canal was then controlled by the French under a 99-year lease.

But that would never happen today, the columnist said. "It's far easier to imagine New York selling its Statue of Liberty or the French putting the Elysée Palace up for rent. But it is impossible that Egyptians would ever sell the Great Sphinx or any other historical monument."

These quirky anecdotes about Egypt have been dismissed as groundless rumours, but they still piqued Egyptians. The fact is that these rumours underline the gravity of the financial hardship that the Muslim Brotherhood-led government has been through since it came to power, the writer said.

"What is undeniable is that the Brotherhood government is in such financial distress that it is looking into every nook and cranny for an extra buck. It is even considering reconciliation with businessmen who are in court or in jail over corruption charges," Al Rashed wrote.

Given their history with colonisation, Egyptians are allergic to foreign ownership of their possessions.

Even under the unseated president Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian opposition took the government to task over the sale of the Omar Effendi department stores to a Saudi food company, the columnist said.

"It is hard to see how the Qataris would be able to hypothetically run the Suez Canal. It sure isn't Harrod's."

The Muslim Brothers who are coming from a background of community service and grassroots action do not know much about macroeconomics.

"Now they realise that feeding 80 million people a day is not an easy task," the writer said in conclusion. And their continued efforts to monopolise power are not going to help.

Syrian opposition needs more than vests

The US state secretary, John Kerry, announced last week that Washington will donate $60 million to the Syrian opposition, while the European Union would provide Syrian rebels with bulletproof vests, armoured vehicles and other "non-lethal" gear.

How non-lethal equipment is going to make a meaningful difference on the ground and help bring the tragedy in Syria to an end is another question, commented Mazen Hammad in the Qatari newspaper Al Watan yesterday.

"This is not what the Syrian people or the opposition want," the columnist said. "It is rather sadistic to keep trying to find ways to avoid supplying the rebels with real weapons that can actually help them against government forces that use warplanes, missiles and tanks."

Sure, the Syrian conflict is extremely hard to resolve, the writer conceded. On the one hand, the Syrian president, Bashar Al Assad, has been entirely convinced by his entourage that there is a universal conspiracy against his country, so he will never relent. On the other, the West fears that radical Islamists would take over in post-Assad Syria.

But the world cannot keep watching as innocent civilians are killed by dozens every day.

"The Syrian tragedy must be brought to an end without any further delays, before this Arab nation turns into an Al Qaeda-controlled wasteland," the writer said.

Arabic is endangered in its own heartland

The Arabic language is not receiving the level of support that it needs to be able to thrive, even in countries where it is the official language, the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organisation (Alesco) said in a statement on the occasion of the Arabic Language Day, which is celebrated in the Arab world on March 1.

According to the Sharjah-based newspaper Al Khaleej, Alesco warned Arab governments against the excessive reliance on foreign languages in all levels of education and against the spread of local dialects on TV, radio and in advertising, in a way that undermines the standard Arabic.

Alesco, which is based in Tunisia, recommended that "all Arab nations raise the Arabic language file to the top of their agendas, considering that language is the fortress that ensures Arab unity", according to the newspaper.

The organisation said it will collaborate with ministries, councils and research centres across the Arab world to boost the use of the Arabic language in media and promote its teaching and learning, the paper reported.

Alesco also called on Arab nations to bring their support to Somalia, Djibouti and the Comoros Islands, where Arabic is spoken and needs further development.

* Digest compiled by Achraf El Bahi