VOICES FROM THE ARAB PRESS
A weekly selection of opinions and analyses from the Arab media around the world
WHY ASSAD SHOULD FEAR WHAT IS GOING ON IN NORTH AFRICA Al-Arab, London, April 17
The people of the Middle East have learned their lesson from previous uprising attempts: They no longer view their leaders as gods
Until recently, Syrian President Bashar Assad was seen as the Arab dictator who succeeded in stopping the so-called “domino effect” of Arab revolutions, which spanned Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Iraq. The Assad regime did not hesitate to use everything necessary to stop the Syrian revolution, including the use of chemical weapons, sectarian militias and foreign armies. The results were catastrophic. Almost all of Syria’s national infrastructure was destroyed, millions of people were displaced, thousands of others were killed, and large-scale demographic changes unfolded in the country. But the outcome was not entirely negative for Assad.
The savagery with which he responded sent an important message to his counterparts in the Middle East: I am here to stay. Assad’s tactics also helped other Arab regimes crush their own internal demonstrations and scare protesters away. However, what is currently happening in Sudan and Algeria severely undermines the Assad doctrine. Algeria, for example, is one of the few countries that supported the Assad regime. It stood on Assad’s side several times at the United Nations, when the General Assembly attempted to condemn Syria and launch an international commission of inquiry against the regime. Similarly, Sudan’s ousted president, Omar al-Bashir, maintained tight relations with Damascus and even visited Assad this past December in a demonstration of support. The fall of both these leaders spells trouble for Assad.
First, he lost some of his closest allies in the Arab world. Second, and perhaps more importantly, Assad is witnessing a renewed wave of political protests that might trickle into his own country. The people of the Middle East have learned their lesson from previous uprising attempts. They no longer view their leaders as gods. They refuse to accept military regimes in place of deposed dictators. And they’ve grown tired of their old leaders. As Assad vows to regain complete control over Syria’s territory, he might find himself facing a new revolution at home. Assad’s war may be over, but the battle for his regime’s stability will continue.
– Ali Hussein Bakir
THE PA LEADERSHIP INSISTS ON SHOOTING ITSELF IN THE FOOT Al-Anba, Kuwait, April 16
I don’t know why the leadership of the Palestinian Authority insists on shooting itself in the foot, especially in its dealings with internal Palestinian affairs. Numerous decisions and actions are adopted by the Palestinian leadership, but most of them are contradictory to the will of Palestinian factions and the majority of the Palestinian public. Even when the PLO tries to define its national goals, it succeeds in misunderstanding what most Palestinians want. The Palestinian national project suffers from a major crisis because of the lack of vision by its leadership and institutions. It is also suffering from growing challenges and risks, especially since President Donald Trump entered the White House and began targeting the Palestinians on almost every front. Abbas has insisted, and continues to insist, on rejecting the call for a united leadership framework for the Palestinian factions. For the past 14 years, since the Cairo Agreement in 2005, and over the past eight years, since the reconciliation agreement in 2011, Abbas has not put a single brick into rebuilding the PLO. He continues to prevent the smooth and fair participation of Palestinian factions such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the PLO’s bodies and institutions. Despite understandings reached by the Palestinian factions in Beirut in January 2017, regarding convening the Palestinian National Council with the participation of all Palestinian factions, Abbas insisted that the Council come together under the auspices of the Israeli Occupation in Ramallah in April 2018. Only the PLO participated. This was in complete contrast to the Palestinian consensus. Throughout 2018, Abbas and the Fatah leadership continued to ignore the most prominent Palestinian forces. The same applies to the sanctions imposed by Abbas and his team on the Gaza Strip two years ago: the termination of services, the reduction of the salaries of thousands of employees, and the failure to pay the electricity bill. Furthermore, there is unequivocal Palestinian consensus to stop security coordination with the Israeli Occupation. However, Abbas and his team are determined to go against these trends and decisions, while Abbas has consistently affirmed the “sanctity” of this coordination and his strict commitment to it. The inevitable question is, therefore, why is Abbas so committed to these terrible policies? Not only do they cause harm to the Palestinian Authority itself, but they also severely damage the Palestinian national cause. Why insist on increasing internal division among the Palestinian people and among the Palestinian factions? Above all, why insist on these policies that do not serve anyone, except for the Occupation? – Mohsen Mohammed Saleh
THE CHALLENGE OF ’48 PALESTINIANS IN THE ISRAELI ELECTIONS Al-Araby al-Jadeed, London, April 15
Several questions emerged in the aftermath of the April 9 Israeli parliamentary elections, when the number of seats garnered by Arab parties significantly declined in comparison to the previous vote. One of the main questions relates to the future of the Palestinians who live within the 1948 borders. Despite entering the Israeli political arena in 1977, Arab parties have not been able to realize the hopes of the Arab minority – neither on the economic or political justice front.
Since 1948, successive Israeli governments have sought to sever the Arab minority’s connection with its Arab surroundings, while attempting to assimilate and integrate them into Israeli society.
They tried to make the Druze and Circassians separate nationalities; imposed compulsory service in the Israeli army in 1958; tried to differentiate between Arab Muslims and Christians; and divided Christians into eastern and western communities as well as Muslims into different sects. The last decade has witnessed intensive settlement activity in all of the historic lands of Palestine, whether in the Galilee, the Negev desert or the West Bank.
Jerusalem, too, has been witnessing intense settlement activity, especially in the Arab neighborhoods, for the purpose of Judaizing and imposing an Israeli order on the Palestinian population. It is noteworthy that, despite the 70 years since the establishment of Israel, its institutions could not impose the Jewish demographic reality in absolute terms, since Arabs constitute about 20% of the total population of Israel (not to mention the 1.7 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and 2.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank). And despite rising from 151,000 in 1948 to about 1.5 million today, Israel’s Palestinian population has only gained 3% of the land on which Israel was established.
Therefore, there is considerable and extensive Israeli pressure on the Arab minority to assimilate into the Jewish majority.
The recent Israeli election campaign included slogans and speeches calling for legislation that would marginalize the Arab minority. Israeli officials went further by calling for the expulsion of the Arab minority, a sign that Israeli racism is becoming worse than ever before. There are challenges facing the Palestinians in the wake of the elections for the 21st Knesset: namely, the possibility of an accelerated package of racist laws against them, especially as the next Israeli government will be more right-wing, armed with the absolute support of the Trump Administration. – Nabil al-Saheli
The inevitable question is: Why is PA President Mahmoud Abbas so committed to these terrible policies?
THE ‘DAY AFTER’ IN SUDAN Asharq al-Awsat, London, April 18
Political change is rarely successful if carried out quickly and dramatically, as the consequences of abrupt revolutions are often very costly. This has been particularly true in the Arab world, where a wave of revolutions that unfolded in 2011, commonly referred to as the Arab Spring, led to major political upheaval throughout the entire Middle East. Change often makes things worse, not better, because of the absence of political and civil society organizations capable of compensating for the vacuum created by the overthrow of a longstanding regime. Sudan, however, so far seems to be an exception to this rule. A week after the ousting of former President Omar alBashir and the assumption of power by a Transitional Council, Sudan has still not witnessed major armed clashes or bloodshed between regime proponents and opponents.
This proves that the Sudanese people so far succeeded in toppling Bashir with minimal damage. Furthermore, the country’s military leadership has asked all political factions to collectively agree on a national figure who can assume the presidency.
They also agreed to establish a civilian government during the transitional period. Sudan’s Transition Council has been able to consolidate the support of major Arab countries, which enabled it to bolster its international stance and avoid domestic turmoil.
The Transitional Council also proved itself as an overarching body capable of managing Sudan in the interim, until power is handed over to an elected government.
Of course, the most critical step in the process is still ahead, and many things can change on the ground. The real fear now is that the Sudanese opposition, which clearly did not expect the regime to fall so easily, will struggle to maintain order. There are sit-ins still going on in front of army headquarters. There is also the challenge of including a wide range of voices, from trade unions to political parties, in the country’s new leadership.
The Transitional Council will therefore have to make some concessions in order to ensure long-term stability in Sudan. – Salman Al Dosari
PEOPLE BURN a picture of Syrian President Bashar Assad during a protest outside the Syrian embassy in Khartoum, Sudan, in 2012.
PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY President Mahmoud Abbas gestures during a ceremony marking the 54th anniversary of Fatah’s founding, in Ramallah on December 31.