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Monday 31 January 2011
Letters: Egypt's future
New beginning for a free Egypt
If the people on the streets are successful in ousting President Mubarak, the confluence of several factors bodes well for the introduction of a genuinely progressive form of Arab democracy in Egypt. Despite having lived under emergency laws for 30 years, civil society movements there are strong and there are more than 20 well-organised political parties.
Although there is some support for the Muslim Brotherhood, Egyptians do not want to create an Islamic state, and 70 per cent expressed concern at the rise of Islamic extremism in a 2010 poll by the Pew Research Centre.
Egypt also has an exceptional potential leader in the shape of Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel laureate who commands respect at home and abroad and who could represent a unifying leader.
Indeed ElBaradei's call for a boycott of last December's parliamentary elections not only brought many groups together but the boycott itself was the final nail in the coffin of Mubarak's claim to legitimacy. The emergence of a genuine non-aligned democracy in Egypt might give Western governments cause for concern.
After all, they have propped up Mubarak for the past three decades and, in return, Mubarak has guarded their interests. But rather than hedge their bets with non-committal statements calling for avoidance of bloodshed, Western leaders must recognise the tide of history and come out in support of the Egyptian revolution.
Our Prime Minister was right to say in his CNN interview that the outcome of the upheaval across parts of the Arab world will depend on the building blocks put in place by the Arab people, above all in establishing the rule of law, not the simple event of an election.
But he was wrong to suggest that reform was possible for Tunisian, Egyptian and Yemeni Arabs without revolution. In these countries, no gathering of people – and certainly no political party or newspaper – was permitted without official approval. In Tunisia, even alumni of British universities could meet only in the safety of the British embassy.
The media has rightly turned the spotlight on Egypt, but we should not lose sight of the extraordinary pace of reform in Tunisia since the flight of Ben Ali and his family. A friend visited her hairdresser in Tunis five days ago and was told the hairdresser's son had been in the police for 12 years. His nominal salary was 900 dinars a month (£400 or so) but he received only half that sum, paid in cash and with no paperwork. He had just been paid the full sum and had to sign a receipt.
Tunisia is a solidly Muslim country with a proud tradition of tolerance towards other faiths.
East Horsley, Surrey
After President Mubarak, the biggest threat to Egyptian democracy is the US relationship with the Egyptian military. In 2010, the US gave Egypt $1.3bn in military aid, plus excess military equipment worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
The Obama administration has requested Congress to allow similar sums for 2011 but the US budget is stalled in the Republican House of Representatives.
Remember, an Egyptian government that deviated one inch from the present policy of good relations with Israel, including support of the Israeli blockade of Gaza, would not be given one cent of US aid.
The failure of the Middle East peace process and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan guarantee that a freely elected Egyptian government would not have a foreign policy similar to the present one of President Mubarak. But, after Mubarak, will the generals support a democratic government with policies that threaten the loss of their US aid package? That is doubtful.
George D Lewis
As the situation in Egypt becomes more unstable and especially if President Mubarak is deposed, no doubt the USA, as the world's imperial power, will call for an international task force to protect the Suez Canal. This would, of course, be in their economic interest.
Perhaps they will invite Great Britain, France and Israel to provide the spearhead in view of our mutual previous experience in this theatre in the middle of the 20th century.
D J Walker
Care programme cuts that hurt
"Sure Start will stay and we will improve it" said David Cameron in his speech to his party's conference in 2009. Andrew Selous, Tory MP for South West Bedfordshire, addressing the Single Parent Action Plan Conference in November of the same year, described the scrapping of Sure Start by the Tories as a "Labour lie".
But we now hear that, not only has the Caversham Children's Centre nursery in Kentish Town been given notice to close (Notebook, 27 January) but Hammersmith and Fulham Conservative Council also plans to withdraw direct funding to nine out of its 15 Sure Start children's centres.
Here in Thanet, identified as one of the most socially deprived areas in the country, we hold our breath. We have a Tory MP and a Tory-led council. Can we expect to hold on to what we have and to see improvements to the excellent services delivered through our children's centres?
The nub of the problem with the quality of care given to the elderly is summed up in one sentence in Johann Hari's article (26 January), "It costs £450 a week on average to keep an old person in an institution".
An elderly relative is in an excellent care home. It has been completely redecorated and refurnished in the past two years, and the care is friendly with plenty of well-trained staff always chatting to residents as they work, and there is a range of activities. The food is good and I have eaten there several times.
Recently, my relative has had several falls; on each occasion, I was rung within an hour and told what had happened, and a member of staff had time to discuss any concerns I had, even though there had been no injury. The cost for this excellent home is more than £700 a week.
The place is well staffed 24/7 and, as well as carers, there are activity organisers, cooks, cleaners, laundry staff, maintenance staff, gardeners and management. The number of staff needed to run this home to this standard probably exceeds the number of residents.
Then there are energy costs, maintenance materials, food management costs and other supplies etc. It is not possible to provide a satisfactory standard of care for £450 a week. If we are to provide a good quality of care we have to be prepared to pay a proper price for it, and find a way to fund it.
Minister's view of health 'facts'
The Minister of State for Care Services, Paul Burstow, asks to be allowed to give us some facts (letter, 21 January). Instead, he gives us unsubstantiated opinions.
For example, he claims that because other countries spent their health-care funding "better", Britain has some of the worst survival rates for certain cancers in the OECD. Nowhere has there been demonstrated a link between a poor choice of spending in the UK and survival rates for selected cancers. How would he suggest the money was spent to reduce our rates relative to the rest of Europe?
He also claims that poor spending resulted in the highest number of deaths per 1,000 live births in Western Europe. This is a ludicrous statistic. The Government could easily reduce it by encouraging more teenagers to get pregnant.
GPs make decisions about the patients in their own waiting-room; they cannot make choices about patients they don't see. Neither do most of them possess the skills to decide whether a treatment is cost-effective. That is why one needs a body to take a balanced view to ensure that patients without loud voices or aggressive GPs get a fair share of the funding. The present proposals will see a return to the old cliche of a "postcode" health lottery.
Professor of Medical Statistics, Sheffield
Wrong slant on the Bible's italics
Christina Patterson writes (The Saturday Column, 22 January) that God "sounds very cross" (with men who 'lie with mankind') on the basis of the italics in the texts, "It is an abomination" and "their blood shall be upon them".
While I have little problem with her description of the Old Testament as "thrillingly poetic, and gloriously contradictory" etc, she has misunderstood what the italics in the King James Version of the Bible indicate.
Unlike the modern convention, they are not used in the KJV to add emphasis, but to indicate words which are not in the original Hebrew or Greek, yet which need to be added to an English translation to bring out the true meaning of the original. They were put in italics to make sure everyone understood that these words were not in the available manuscripts.
Interestingly, James Moffatt, whose one-man translation of the Bible appeared in 1913, uses italics for yet another purpose: to indicate different sources behind the text, such as the two – very different – accounts of Creation in the first two chapters of Genesis; the second (earlier) account being printed entirely in italics.
CANON ANDREW WARNER
A tribute to Beth Shalom
In the article by Alice-Azania Jarvis (27 January), she tells the remarkable story of Holocaust survival by Monty Graham and the work of the Holocaust Education Trust. But I was surprised to see no mention of Beth Shalom.
This centre, at Laxton, near Nottingham, was the pioneer of teaching the history of the Shoa to children and adults in Britain. It was conceived and built in 1995 by the Smith family, who are Christians, entirely from their own resources. They were responsible for the introduction of Holocaust studies to the school curriculum. Thousands of schoolchildren visit the centre every year and are introduced to survivors who who speak to them of their experiences.
There is a DVD which tells the remarkable story of the genesis and work of the centre called The Story of Beth Shalom (House of Peace).
Hove, East Sussex
Hacking, hacks and 'other forces'
Hacking into mobile phones has been done by private detectives for certain newspapers and possibly by journalists. The method seems to be fairly straightforward and well-known, and it is conceivable that the media does not have a monopoly on the practice.
For example, might not unscrupulous politicians seek to find out secrets about their political enemies in other parties and perhaps in their own? Might not spouses employ private detectives to snoop on their celebrity partners? Might not the police, acting lawfully under a search warrant, seek to hack into the phone of someone suspected of an offence?
The immediate reaction of someone who thinks their phone has been tapped is to assume that it is the work of the media, but it could well be someone else. Perhaps the Home Secretary should instigate a wholesale review of the problem of phone hacking and the enforcement of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 in conjunction with the mobile phone industry and the police.
John E Orton
Risk of cutting Harrier force
I was the Ministry of Defence Director primarily responsible for getting the Harrier aircraft into service on time (on 31 March 1969), within budget, and up to its specification. It remained in service for nearly 42 years, and sold well abroad. It did particularly well in the Falklands war.
In disposing of it, it is hoped that Parliament agreed not to try to take part in wars which would need it. Has a survey been made of all wars likely within the next 20 or so years? Has Parliament debated in which of those wars they might like to take part to influence the result? Has the Ministry of Defence been told, so that they may decide, on a realistic basis, what forces and weapons they would need to ensure favourable outcomes? And have the results been costed to form a part of the future defence budget?
The old saying, "If you want peace, prepare for war", is as relevant now as ever.
Air Marshal Sir Reginald E W Harland
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
I cannot follow the argument that genetically modified foodstuffs will solve the planet's food shortages. Do not these advanced grains and such require extra fertilisers and water to supply the claimed increases in food? How are the Third World's small agriculturists expected to get hold and pay for them? It all beats me. God help the poor.
Hear it for Judy
Andy Gill (Arts & Books, New Releases, 28 January) claims that Eva Cassidy's "jazz-tinged treatment of 'Over the Rainbow' surely now represents the definitive delivery of the standard". I beg to differ, feeling that the late artiste sings so slowly as to almost take the tune away. So give me the Judy Garland original every time.
So, for your correspondent (letters, 29 January), voting against the sell-off of the forests might redeem the Lib Dems. Isn't this rather like trying to recreate virginity with a coy look?
Gwent, South Wales
Perspectives on wheel clamping
How a sick lady was gouged for £500
I stopped my car for just five minutes in an empty car park in Essex because I desperately needed the loo at an adjacent petrol station (letters, 25 January). I came out to find my vehicle clamped and the clamper standing beside my car.
I begged and pleaded. I had barely the cash for my petrol, no credit cards, no mobile phone, a middle-aged woman in poor health, 80 miles from home and no one I could contact.
The clampers produced an ancient tow-truck within a few minutes and removed my car. I was crying so much I couldn't even understand where they were taking it. By now, the anxiety, together with an underlying illness, was causing an asthma attack but I somehow had to make my way to the clamper "headquarters" in Ockendon.
This turned out to be a scrapyard with roaming pit-bull terriers, where I was admitted and then locked in with the abusive and terrifying owner who refused to release my car until I had paid £500.
I eventually managed to get a friend to phone over payment. By this time, the asthma attack had become severe and an ambulance had to be called. A kindly paramedic retrieved my car; I couldn't take any more of the jeering and sneering clampers and their laughing comments that I had brought it all on myself.
Essex police were not interested. Likewise the relevant council and trading standards. I believe this Essex clamping firm laughs at anyone who attempts to sue them. They merely cease trading then re-emerge under a variety of names.
I would be so grateful for advice from Patrick Troy, the chief executive of the British Parking Association about where I should go from here, bearing in mind I have no money for legal fees or solicitors, and I am still paying back the £500.
Disabled need the deterrent
Patrick Troy warns of the unspoken consequences of the Government's proposed ban on clamping and towing away , and disabled motorists will feel the pain of the ban more sharply than most.
Blue Badge holders across the country have benefited more frequently in recent years from greater accessibility provided by specially designated parking-spaces and, until now, car parks have been protected by the only deterrent that makes a difference, the prospect of being towed away.
Without that deterrent, Blue Badge holders will be left to face a whole host of problems including blocked access to ramps, having to use parking spaces with no room for wheelchair access to their vehicle and a greater distance to travel to the entrance of the building they are visiting.
The Government's suggestion that the police will take responsibility for managing these problems in car parks is hardly convincing.
There has been no government consultation with motorist groups or motor industry representatives, nor has it been offered.
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