VOICES FROM THE ARAB PRESS

A weekly se­lec­tion of opin­ions and analy­ses from the Arab me­dia around the world

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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

(Photos: Reuters)

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.

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