Three Arab writers opining on Middle East issues, address the stir caused by a Black actor playing the role of Cleopatra; why Arabs are following with interest the election in Turkey and why the West needs to address problems in the Middle East directly and with more urgency.

(*Translation from Arabic by Asaf Zilberfarb)


By Meshary Al-Dhaidi

Asharq Al-Awsat, London, April 29

Do filmmakers have the right to alter historical accounts to align with their own ideological and political leanings? Recently, a stir was created after Netflix announced they would be producing a documentary about the illustrious Egyptian Queen Cleopatra  with images depicting the monarch with Black African features. Netflix announced the release of a series of documentaries supported by male and female activists from the American Black Movement.

“Queen Cleopatra,” as portrayed by British actor Adele James in the Netflix “docudrama” set to release on May 10, 2023.

This trend, which is both cultural and artistic, attempts to counter racism and rewrite history in favor of Blacks. Mostafa Waziri, the secretary-general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, recently commented on the film, emphasizing that its portrayal of the iconic queen as a Black African woman is a falsification of history. He believes that this is particularly egregious since the movie is classified as a documentary, rather than a drama.

Waziri further highlighted that all statues depicting Cleopatra reflect her Hellenistic Greek features, such as light skin, a drawn nose, and thin lips. Dr. Nasser Makkawi, head of the Egyptian Antiquities Department at the Faculty of Archaeology at Cairo University, claims that the depiction of Cleopatra in this film contradicts the most basic historical facts and the accounts of historians, such as Plutarch and Cassius Dio. They recorded Roman history in Egypt during Queen Cleopatra’s reign, and confirmed that she was fair-skinned and of pure Macedonian descent.

Cleopatra, as portrayed in the 1963 Hollywood movie by Elizabeth Taylor.20TH CENTURY STUDIOS

It would have been possible to accept this absurd and fictitious portrayal of Cleopatra, provided that viewers understand it as such. Otherwise, it is an ideological falsehood. Do others have the right to present films with white characters, such as Brad Pitt playing the role of Nelson Mandela or Muhammad Ali? How would Black leaders react to such a decision?

– Meshary Al-Dhaidi


By Ali Hamada 

An-Nahar, Lebanon, May 12

The latest issue of the prestigious British magazine The Economist conveys a clear message on its cover: “The most important elections in 2023,” which refers to the upcoming elections in Turkey. The magazine is firmly opposed to the rule of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Islamic Justice and Development party he leads. The editorial in the issue is dedicated to this position and calls for the overthrow of Erdogan, who is classified as an Islamic autocrat allied with other autocrats, such as Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan faces a huge election test against a united opposition led by Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu.

In the coming years, these elections will have repercussions not only for the region, but also for Europe and Asia. This position has been echoed by most European and American media outlets, some of which have gone as far as publicly slandering the Turkish president. 

In the Arab world, the concern is palpable, as Turkey, the nation closest to them, approaches its election day. Turkey’s size and Erdogan’s two-decade rule under the Justice and Development party have made this election more consequential than any before it. Should the president and his party fall, the election will be a watershed moment for the region, potentially changing the course of one of the Middle East’s major powers. 

The reverberations of such an event will be felt in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Egypt and beyond. As the polls opened in Turkey, the region was poised to witness a shift in power with the potential fall of President Erdogan. Analyses suggest that this could drastically alter Turkish foreign policy, particularly in its “vital sphere,” which includes Arab states. 

Erdogan’s “neo-Ottoman project” has sought to expand Turkey’s influence in the region, and his potential fall could lead to a reshuffling of alliances. While some Arab countries may celebrate Erdogan’s fall, others may have to reevaluate their bet on the existing alliance.

Whatever the outcome, the region is set to experience major changes. The Turkish elections are garnering significant attention from the Arab political and media worlds, as they are the first elections President Erdogan has run without being guaranteed a victory beforehand. 

Several scenarios may arise based on the outcome of the elections. If Erdogan wins the presidency but loses the parliamentary majority, his power will remain wide-reaching, albeit more difficult to wield than before. If he loses both the presidency and the parliament, his rule will be met with daily disruption from a parliament attempting to undo the constitution he put in place in 2017. 

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has ruled Turkey for more than 20 years. For the first time, he isn’t the favorite to win an election.

If Erdogan’s party wins the parliament but he loses the presidency, it will be a major setback, as his authority has been a major factor in the success of the Justice and Development party. It is likely that the elections will result in a delicate balance, with Erdogan in the presidency and a dispersed parliament between his party and the six-party alliance. This could result in minor shifts in Turkish foreign policy, with a decrease in Erdogan’s influence over any future coalition government.

– Ali Hamada 


By Abdullah Juma Al-Haj

Al-Ittihad, UAE, May 3

In recent years, the political landscape in the Middle East has become increasingly complex and intertwined. Leaders of the major powers involved in the region have learned that tenacity often yields positive results. Consequently, the outlook and objectives of world leaders must be focused on achieving a balance between the interests of the people of the region and those of the great powers.

Optimism may appear difficult for those familiar with the region’s issues and problems, yet even the biggest pessimists will agree that conflicts can be reduced in intensity, even if they cannot be fully resolved in a short time.

Over the past 60 years, Western policies toward the region have been inconsistent. These policies have been tried, leading to a greater continuity of disagreement or division within the countries involved, and while they have achieved some successes, they have also been marked by waves of disappointment among the Arabs.

It is remarkable that Westerners have persistently sought to bring peace to the region, and all are proud of the efforts made, yet subsequent politicians have not built upon the foundations of their predecessors’ policies. For example, the current administration in the US is facing more delicate and intricate issues, due to the new Russian and Chinese approaches toward the region and beyond.

Therefore, US politicians and diplomats must explore Russia and China’s intentions toward the region’s problems and act accordingly.

Skill required in the stiff competition for the future of the Middle East.

The ongoing conflict in Ukraine and the escalating trade and economic war with China have caused deep divisions among Western countries – the US and EU – and both Russia and China. To prevent the world from slipping into a dangerous slide that could lead to its destruction and the annihilation of humanity, Western diplomacy must seek to engage in a new constructive dialogue with these two countries regarding the pressing issues of today.

A dialogue that provides a platform to address the issues in the Arab region and its regional surroundings must be pursued to promote peace, whether it be concerning the Arab-Israeli conflict, Iran’s nuclear program, the Syrian peace process, or the relations between the Gulf Cooperation Council countries and its neighbors.

After the Gulf wars, Western politicians have been unable to come to a consensus on the nature of their military and strategic relations with the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Egypt, and Jordan. This has led to strained relations between the parties that should be allies. To ensure a more harmonious relationship, Western countries must strive to reach a broader agreement with these friendly nations.

The agenda of Western countries in the region is packed with pressing matters, and they require innovative thinking to tackle them, as well as ample financial aid. In some foreign policies, time can bring solutions, but in others, this is unfeasible and requires urgent and direct action.

When it comes to the problems of the Arab region, the latter approach is more effective, and if Westerners want to realize their interests prudently, they must address them promptly and directly.

– Abdullah Juma Al-Haj

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).

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