President speaks about Egypt on CBC’s ‘The National’

York President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri took part in a panel discussion about unrest in his homeland, moderated by Peter Mansbridge, anchor of CBC TV’s “The National” on Jan. 31. Mansbridge posed questions about the coming transition from the military-dominated presidency of Hosni Mubarak to a more democratic state. See the exchange at the CBC website. Here are extracts from the president’s observations:

Shoukri: I think for sure there are certain lines that have been crossed and this process is irreversible. I don’t see anything in the future that would look like the past. I actually believe that there will be a transition to a more democratic system, a system where human rights are being respected.

Mansbridge: Do you do that through the army as Janice [Stein, Munk Centre of Global Affairs, University of Toronto] is suggesting?

Shoukri: It is very difficult because experience with armies ruling countries has been extremely negative, but one would hope that the disciplined army who, so far, have acted in a very disciplined and appropriate way, will carry on being a facilitator for the transition, rather than end up ruling the country.

Mansbridge (on agreement that the rest of the Arab world is watching events): How do you see it unfolding, Mamdouh?

Shoukri: Well, throughout history, Egypt has been the centre of culture – a centre, really, of the Arab world – and throughout history, what happens in Egypt really reflects what is going to happen in the rest of the Arab world. So, I think that the move for democratic reform will spread around the Middle East. There’s no question of this in my mind. How fast? This is really the question. And what obstacles will be built along the way? This is really the question – making sure that the extremism is not going to ride the wave and end up taking advantage of the situation.

Mansbridge: How much of a role does [Premier Benjamin] Netanyahu and Israel play now?

Shoukri: Well, it’s very difficult for me to comment on that, but one thing I can say: I really agree wholeheartedly with [freelance columnist Mona Eltahawy] that the change is happening. It will continue to happen. There will be hiccups along the way, but definitely the change is happening and I think a more democratic, in general, Arab world in which the people are respected, they are enjoying their human rights, they are enjoying free elections – equality irrespective of religion, background and what have you – will be a guarantee for peace. All countries that enjoy these privileges tend to have peace because people are busy raising families and working on the development of their countries. I think the existing equation that democratic reforms in Arab countries may result in more problems for the West, I don’t think this is true; it’s the other way around.

York prof defends Toronto author’s work under fire in China

Penguin Canada has put one of its planned 2011 blockbusters in limbo until it is satisfied that the author hasn’t been poaching from the works of the Chinese-Canadian literary elite, wrote the Toronto Star Feb. 1, in a story about controversy surrounding the work of Toronto resident Zhang Ling.

[Zhang’s] latest novel, a multi-generational saga of Chinese immigration to Canada, has come under withering assault from various web-based attackers, who claim that Zhang has appropriated some of the ideas, plots, characters and details of a number of Canadian Chinese writers.

The allegation: that Gold Mountain Blues, written in Chinese, plagiarizes the works of well-known Chinese Canadian authors who write in English, including Denise Chong, Wayson Choy, Sky Lee and Paul Yee. It is an accusation Zhang, 53, categorically denies, wrote the Star.

“The allegations of plagiarism against Zhang Ling are totally unfounded,” says York University Professor Xu Xueqing, who specializes in Chinese Canadian literature [in the Department of Languages, Literatures & Linguistics, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies].

Especially upsetting, says Xu, is the fact that the accusers have been able to cloak themselves in anonymity. [She added] that certain archetypes, literary forms and history itself are common resources for all writers.

After bailout and big loss, Chrysler pays bonuses to workers

Chrysler Group LLC lost US$652 million last year, but the company will hand out performance bonuses for 2010 to almost all its employees before repaying taxpayer loans of US$7.6 billion that kept the company alive during the auto crisis, wrote The Globe and Mail Feb. 1.

The automaker, however, forecast a profit for the current year and said its turnaround is so far advanced that the company can afford to share its improving fortunes with workers.

“It was absolutely owed that we treat our people properly,” Chrysler chief executive officer [and Osgoode grad] Sergio Marchionne (LLB ‘83) said Monday during a call to discuss the company’s year-end results. “The obligation to our people was much greater than trying to improve our bottom-line profitability.”

The reaction of taxpayers to the bonuses will likely depend on the size of the payments, said Bernie Wolf, a professor of economics [in the Schulich School of Business] at York University.  “I’m not so sure the public will be keen on this, but on the other hand it may make some sense in motivating [employees] and increasing productivity,” Wolf said.

On air

  • Comments by Anne-Marie Ambert, professor emerita in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, about a recent US study that says fathers should leave caregiving duties to mothers, were featured in a story on Ottawa’s 1310 News Radio Jan. 31.