The Undiscussed Backsliding of Women’s Rights in Egypt and Arab World

When I lived in Cairo last year, many Egyptians told me that the Arab Spring hadn’t improved anything. Things were worse than they were before the 2011 revolution. Food prices shot up. Young people still didn’t have jobs and didn’t care to vote. The military government crushed dissent, arresting journalists and activists alike. A Thomson Reuters poll named Cairo as the world’s most dangerous city for women in 2017, testifying to the double whammy of oppression Egyptian women endure.

Misogyny – the child of patriarchy and religious fundamentalism – grows stronger as Egypt enters one of the most repressive climates in recent history. In Egypt, the global outcry against sexual abuse is not even close to making a dent on the culture where women are second-tier citizens.

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Stop Celebrating Diversity

At a think tank in Washington where I used to work, I once attended a one-day compulsory diversity training, during which the instructor requested everyone to identify themselves by age groups, sexual orientation and childhood socio-economic background. Seeing a coworker identify herself as a gay woman, another coworker who’d grown up outside of the U.S. expressed shock and dread. It was a case of a good intention creating negative emotions. For me, I resented having to sit through the training, when I could have worked and gone home earlier.

Despite damning evidence that shows mandatory diversity trainings don’t work or actually make things worse – a 2006 review of over 700 companies showed that trainings aimed at managers activated bias rather than reducing it – we keep doing it. From Wall Street headhunters to Harvard admissions offices, diversity is seen as a positive end in itself, yet it is one fraught with cultural baggage.

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Doing Away with “Publish or Perish”

In a past life I was a flak for a Washington-based think tank. Researchers there toiled long hours at desk, facing intense pressure to publish. Other duties included drafting proposals to raise funds for the institute, supervising junior researchers, and trying out their best TED-like talks at conferences. But when it came time for promotions and bonuses, only one thing mattered: getting published in high-ranking journals.

“Publish or perish.” Scientists are supposed to have an open mind and question existing beliefs. But to succeed in the dog-eat-dog world of academia, they must abide by this archaic rule. This has given birth to a $25 billion scientific publishing industry that spans the globe.

In other words, “peer review” is mainly about profits, not ideas.

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The Chinese Ghettoization of American Campuses

A record number of foreign students, 890,000 and climbing, are enrolled in American universities. A third of them are from China. Their high tuitions might be a godsend for universities facing slashed state budget cuts. After all, in 2014 foreign students contributed $27 billion to the U.S. economy. Plus they provide a veneer of diversity every college covets.

But their presence on campus has stoked a backlash, as middle-class American students are increasingly crowded out of the admissions process. Campus life has also been negatively affected, as these students cluster themselves off from the rest of their classmates.

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How Not to Empower Women in Afghanistan

The U.S. Agency for International Development’s $416 million, five-year program to boost women’s leadership runs the risk of being irrelevant in a country where, just last month, a woman was beaten to death by a mob of men in broad daylight for allegedly burning a Quran. In a video taken by an onlooker, a man is seen taking a concrete block to smash her head. Her body was then set on fire and thrown into a river.

The issue is not just the legitimate concerns over the difficulties of implementing, monitoring and assessing the impact of the program amidst a NATO pullout, as the inspector general of the government watchdog on Afghanistan reconstruction pointed out.

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Why the Pentagon Needs a War on PowerPoint

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter became the latest top Pentagon official to recognize the threat posed by the indiscriminate and ingrained use of PowerPoint, when he banned his commanders from using it during a summit in Kuwait. According to his spokesman, it was so that they could have thoughtful analysis and discussions, instead of fixed briefings.

He should go further and ban PowerPoint throughout the defense department. It will boost the quality of analysis and briefings, among others, as officers will no longer be able duck behind indecipherable, mumbo-jumbo slides to bury inconvenient facts or their own lack of understanding of the issue at hand.

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Restore public confidence in vaccines

Natural-lifestyle parents in California’s anti-vaccine communities seem to believe that it’s better that their children get childhood diseases than to have toxins put into their bodies by being vaccinated. This reasoning is equivalent to brushing teeth with organic, fluoride-free toothpaste and then developing cavity – except that, unlike cavity, measles is contagious and can kill.

Given that the falling rate of immunization has allowed measles to resurge, after it was declared eliminated 15 years ago, an awareness-raising campaign is in order. It’s good that California is trying to make it harder for parents to opt out of vaccinating children, but that doesn’t diminish the need to address the public’s lack of knowledge, misinformation or distrust.

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Then came a dog

A fragile-looking old man hooked me up to antibiotics. The sight of the needle made me queasy and I squeezed my eyes shut. The local surgeon, Dr. Veten, gave me two anesthetic shots and started stitching up the wide gash under my nose that tore into my lip. When I opened my eyes every few minutes, the frame of his glasses filled my vision. I couldn’t stop asking him if I’d get a scar. Each time, he confidently said, “No, not at all,” in his steady French tenor, as he strung the needle in and out of my skin.

I learned why a doctor’s voice is important.

Dr. Veten, one of the country’s two oral and maxillofacial surgeons, was in his mid-thirties and looked like he could be on the cast of Gray’s Anatomy. My friend Gina told me he was a “White Moor,” as Arabs are known in Mauritania. I removed the blood-drenched flower-patterned toilet paper and showed him the wound. My elementary French had stayed at the scene of the accident and Gina had to translate, “It’s going to be fine.” He asked if the dog had been vaccinated. Gina said yes.

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Can a Divided UN Help us Fight Terrorism?

President Obama came before the United Nations hat in hand this week and got it to commit to anti-terror action, as the Security Council unanimously approved his foreign fighters resolution. He should also use the UN to promote the “antidotes” to violence he spelled out – entrepreneurship, civil society, education and youth – as part of “an architecture of counterterrorism.”

In fact, the UN has been underused in counterterrorism. Almost ten years after former secretary-general Kofi Annan declared that the UN must up the ante in counterterrorism to stay relevant, the famously unwieldy body has yet to heed his call to tackle transnational security threats.

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Send Development Aid to North Africa, Not Drones

With the unforgiving sun beating down on creaking donkey carts in bone-dry heat, it is evident to first-time visitors that Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania, is one of the poorest places on earth.

It’s also one of the four countries in North and West Africa, along with Libya, Niger and Mali, where the Pentagon is pumping millions into to build elite counter-terrorism units. About $29 million has been set aside for logistics and surveillance equipment for Mauritania. Secretary Kerry called the air capacity and counter-terrorism training given to the Mauritanian armed forces “a regional solution to a regional problem.” It recalls his 2004 campaign quip about the Bush administration’s outsourcing of finding bin Laden to the Pashtuns, only this time we are outsourcing the fight to African armies barely capable of countering Islamic terrorism.

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