Neighbors / Gaza's Rehab Problem

This coming Monday, the race for the big money begins. That is when the Sharm el-Sheikh Conference launched by President Mubarak convenes to sketch a plan for the rehabilitation of Gaza after the tremendous destruction caused by the war.

It will be a festive event, attended by United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton,leaders of most Arab countries and representatives from the World Bank, the European Union and Turkey.

Who has not been invited yet? Deposed Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh wasn't, even though it is clear to all that without the consent of Hamas, it won't be possible to proceed with any rehabilitation program in Gaza.

This is the purpose of the meeting Mubarak scheduled for today with representatives of Fatah and Hamas. If Mubarak makes any progress, even if only symbolic, toward reconciliation of the factions, it will enable him to invite a senior Hamas representative to the gathering. The result of all this will be the recognition of Hamas as an official partner in the international show of support for Gaza, this time in the presence of the U.S. and under the Arab purview.

This is only one obstacle in the rehabilitation process. Money will apparently not be a problem. The six Gulf state finance and development ministers who met last weekend decided to allocate $1.25 billion to the rehabilitation of Gaza (including $500 million from Saudi coffers).

Iran, which was not invited to the gathering, agreed several weeks ago to help by contributing a respectable amount, apparently something in the vicinity of a quarter of a million dollars. And other bodies, including the EU and the U.S., will also contribute their share.

The assessment is that Gaza needs around two billion dollars to rebuild the damaged buildings and it seems that the total commitments to be obtained in Sharm el-Sheikh will far exceed that amount.

The main question is who will get the money, who will set the priorities of the rehabilitation, who will manage the projects and who will get the glory?

The Palestinian Authority has already announced of its own volition that it is allocating 600 million dollars for the rehabilitation of Gaza, without consulting with Hamas, in order to establish facts on the ground. The PA plans to transfer the money, PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad made clear, to residents whose property was damaged by direct hits.

In the meantime, this is merely a statement whose purpose is to wedge a foot in the door. Hamas is not allowing rehabilitation efforts funded by PA money and it insists that the money be transferred via them and the building plans receive their approval.

The Gulf state finance ministers proposed that the money they contribute be deposited in the Islamic Development Bank, which is Saudi-owned, but for now they have no idea to whom and for what it should be transferred. They hope those decisions will be made at the Sharm el-Sheikh conference. The European countries and the U.S. cannot, of course, transfer their donations to Hamas and prefer the PA receive it, but the PA engineers and clerks will not be able to enter Gaza without Hamas' permission.

The situation is largely reminiscent of the struggle that evolved in Lebanon between Hezbollah and the Lebanese government over the rebuilding of the country after the Second Lebanon War. However, unlike Hamas, Hezbollah not only has planning and implementation institutions, but also a budget and huge sources of funding on its own.

In Lebanon too, the government thought it could provide every citizen affected with a sum of money and in the end realized that this is a bad solution. Hezbollah was able to freeze the government's development budget with the help of a political crisis it stirred up that prevented approval of the budget in parliament.

Hamas does not have such tools, but it does have control on the ground. Now the ball is in the PA and in the donor countries' court: Whoever wants the rehabilitation of Gaza will have to shake hands with Hamas.

The female karate bodyguard revolution

Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi already surrounds himself with female bodyguards. Lebanon allows women to serve in the police force in field jobs and as guards. Now it is Egypt's turn.

The Egyptian company Falcon is offering young women, graduates of university physical education departments and "those who are able to withstand physical and mental pressure," as the company's marketing director, Mahmoud Fathi described it, the opportunity to work as bodyguards for businessmen and celebrities.

"They don't have to be muscular, but speed, very good fitness, knowledge of a foreign language and being able to keep a secret are basic qualities that will be used to screen candidates for jobs," explained Fathi. Female Egyptian bodyguards will not be permitted to carry arms and therefore will be trained in martial arts by Chinese experts and be placed in escort and protection jobs for people who visit Egypt or with Egyptian celebrities who can also dictate whether the female bodyguard should wear a veil or regular clothes.

The training program, incidentally, includes psychological counseling alongside physical training, as the female bodyguards will likely accompany their clients to international facilities and institutions that, "inspire awe that may affect the bodyguards' judgment."

One can imagine the reaction of surfers who read the detailed notice on the Al-Arabiya Web site, which itself was criticized for dealing in "nonsense" at a time when the region is rife with danger.

Many wanted to know how far a female bodyguard would go with an escort, and whether this is just another "despicable" method for finding a groom. But quite a few surfers were also concerned about male pride.

Only recently, Egypt allowed a woman to serve as a mayor and afterward also appointed a woman as a religious court judge. The next thing that happens is an area thought to be a male monopoly is moving into female hands.

"Allah preserve you Egypt," wrote one surfer, "you are experiencing a revolution."