The Arab Voice – May 2021

Arab writers from the Middle East and beyond, opine on Pope Francis’s meeting with Holocaust survivor; the need for  Kuwait to reform its legal system with an emphasis on gender equality and the suggested attributes of a national leader in the region today.


Pope Francis and the Embodiment of Human Fraternity

By Ameel Amin

Al-Etihad, UAE, March 7

There is nothing wrong with us, in the Arab world, to admit that the Holocaust of the Jewish people in the first half of the 20th century was one of the darkest and most appalling times humanity has ever faced. There is also nothing wrong with us remembering that, at the time when Jews were sent to concentration camps in Europe, Jews living in the Arab world flourished and thrived in their societies, and lived on equal footing with their fellow Muslim and Christian citizens. It therefore comes as no surprise that many of them reached positions of power and influence, such as government ministries or prominent roles in the arts and theatre. Human brotherhood was a true part of their lives.

So, what made me evoke the tragic events with which I opened this article? A few weeks ago, Pope Francis emerged from the Vatican compound and visited the home of Hungarian-born Hebrew poet Edith Brock, who survived the Nazi Holocaust. Brock had been imprisoned in a concentration camp as a child. She lost her parents and her brother there. Pope Francis’ visit was an attempt to express our shared humanity. This was the pope’s first visit outside the borders of Vatican City since his last trip to the Cross of San Marcello and the Great Church of Saint Mary. He wanted to express his humanity to a widowed woman, a survivor of the horrors of the Holocaust, who has been living alone behind closed door since the outbreak of the pandemic.

Warm Embrace. An emotional and warm meeting between Pope Francis meets and poetess and Holocaust survivor Edith Bruck in Rome on February 20. (photo credit: VATICAN MEDIA/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

Pope Francis spent an hour with Brock, hoping to ease her loneliness and make her feel listened to and thought of. Their differences in religion did not matter. In the first moments of the meeting, Francis told Brock that he had come to thank her for her testimony, in which she spoke about the horrors of the Nazi hatred. The visit took Brock by surprise. She remarked, “We are never ready for the most beautiful moments of our life, nor are we prepared for the worst moments, either.”

Pope Francis concluded the meeting by remarking that we are all brothers, even if this fact is sometimes forgotten.
Ameel Amin


Let Kuwait Become a State of Law Again

By Bahija Behbehani

Al-Qabas, Kuwait, April 29

The bitter reality and horrific events that have been taking place in Kuwait confirm, unfortunately, that we’re living in an era similar to the Iraqi invasion of 1990. Unlike the invasion, however, the enemy we confront today stems from within. It is guided by Kuwaiti citizens who have evaded the law, spread corruption, robbed people of their lives, embezzled public money, and escaped any accountability or punishment. These individuals benefit from a set of archaic rules that are filled with loopholes, allowing them to continue enacting their crimes undeterred. Take, for example, Article 153 of the Penal Code, which limits the punishment that can be imposed on a man accused of killing his wife, mother, or sister to three years of imprisonment, or a fine of 3,000 rupees in place of life imprisonment, or the death penalty!

Time for Change. Kuwaitis gather to protest against violence against women in Kuwait City, Kuwait, April 22,2021. (Reuters)

One can’t help but wonder why only male murderers are able to escape such punishment by simply paying a fine, while a woman committing the exact same crime will be sent to a lifetime in prison instead? Let’s not forget that the Sharia and the holy Quran view murderers the same way – whether they are male or female.  The only way to put our country back on track is to ensure equal treatment before the law for all. When a person commits murder, he or she must face a death sentence, regardless of whether they are male or female.

Hope for the Future. Kuwaiti Women Leaders working to bring more Gender Parity to politics

We therefore demand that the minister of interior swiftly implement the death penalty for every murder case and deter potential aggressors from committing their crime. It is time that we restore the rule of law in Kuwait and provide equal treatment for all Kuwaitis, male and female, before the law.

– Bahija Behbehani


The Importance of Culture and Literature in Politics

By Mustafa Elfeki 

Al-Masry Al-Youm, Egypt, April 29

When foreign officials and senior dignitaries come on official state visits to Egypt, they typically differ in the sites they want to see and the places they want to visit. I still remember the late Iraqi president Abdul Rahman Arif, who ruled Iraq for a very short period of time that was characterized by relative calm, who came to visit Egypt during his term in office. Arif could have chosen to stop at any major historical, cultural, religious or political site in Cairo, but insisted on visiting the Giza Zoo, because of its heritage, fame, and the diversity of its animals and birds. 

In contrast, take the late Tunisian president Zine Al-Abidine Ben Ali who, upon his visit to Egypt, requested to meet the notable writer and Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz, alongside a visit to the Egyptian Museum. His choice reflected the brotherhood between the Egyptian and Tunisian peopleand their shared affinity toward culture and art. I bring all of this up on the occasion of the recent visit of the president of the Republic of Tunisia, Kais Saied, to Egypt. A prominent academic and university professor, Saied focused his visit on a prominent cultural landmark: He attended a Tunisian-Egyptian evening at the Opera House in the presence of the minister of culture, Dr. Inas Abdel Dayem

Saied’s visit reflected his great appreciation for the Egyptian civilization, and he was concerned with museums and art more than he was interested in tourist attractions. I personally believe that a political leader who has experience and understanding in literature and art is better able to understand and lead his people. The literary and artistic vision broadens one’s perceptions, opens his mind, and allows him to make nuanced decisions on abstract matters. 

Preserving the Past.  Tunisian President Kais Saied visits in April 2021, the recently inaugurated National Museum of Egyptian Civilization, Mosque of Amr ibn al-As and Cairo Citadel as part of his three-day visit to Cairo.

It is no wonder that the president of Tunisia approached his visit through this lens and made sure to celebrate the two countries’ contributions to the Arab world. The visit of President Kais Saied, who is known for the integrity of the word and clarity of the idea, reminds us once again of the relationship between culture and politics. A shrewd statesman doesn’t need to have political experience; it is enough to be educated and cultured. 

By understanding art and literature, a leader will better understand the facts of life and the paths of politics, regardless of his background and without regard to the nature of his qualifications. Culture is a divine gift that allows people to better understand those surrounding them while being able to look into the future and anticipate what is yet to come. 

Mustafa Elfeki

*All articles translated by Asaf Zilberfarb

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO)

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.