Two Arab writers opining on Middle East issues, address Israel in the aftermath of is national election and Lebanon literally ‘going to the birds’, with Beirut Airport  threatened by seagulls

(*Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)


By Amir Taheri 

Asharq Al-Awsat, London, January 8, 2023

There are phrases I never thought I, as a student of history, would read, let alone write. However, there is one such statement that is in widespread circulation these days, and I feel no qualms about repeating it: Binyamin Netanyahu is a moderate politician!

Certainly, the “golden boy” of the Israeli political scene appears as a moderate figure within the new government he just formed. Some commentators even call him the “only moderate” in his new government. Others see his return to power as a sign that Israel is “a country deeply divided against itself,” as Alan Dershowitz puts it. Meanwhile, other commentators warn that the recent general elections, which ended in victory for right-wing parties, have pushed Israel “over the edge.”

Israelis going to the polls for the fifth time in three years.

A writer who describes herself as a descendant of one of the victims of the Holocaust warned that “what was built in Israel in 75 years may disintegrate within a very short period of time.” Indeed, the history of Israel, as a newly revived state, is filled with “extremist” and “dangerous” elements that have become paradigms of moderation. The problem is that, when it comes to Israel, the only criterion for deciding whether one is a political moderate or extremist is based on his or her position on the Palestinian issue. Things get more complicated when we remember that the “Palestinian cause” was never clearly defined. It was dealt with incidentally, at first as a refugee problem with the slogan of the right of return. This resulted in keeping an increasing number of Palestinians inside refugee camps in several countries, without taking any measures to resettle them. As for the issue of a direct return to what has become Israel, this became almost impossible because, in order to achieve the right of return, the country to which refugees hope to return must have legitimacy. This was certainly impossible as long as the Arab states denied the existence of Israel in the first place. Decades later, some said they had discovered the two-state solution. Naturally, the United Nations proposed this plan, and the Israelis accepted it under the leadership of the “extremist” David Ben-Gurion in 1947, but it was rejected by neighboring Arab countries. The revival of this proposal came from Western powers, led by the United States, as a diplomatic attempt to achieve the impossible. For decades now, almost everyone has contented themselves with simply talking about an imaginary “solution” or “road maps” toward achieving this solution, without asking themselves whether the Israelis and Palestinians really want it. The truth is that most opinion polls and election campaigns reveal that the majority of Israelis and Palestinians do not want a two-state solution, and I think that this is because it’s unclear what this solution means in the first place. Within the new Israeli Knesset, only 10 out of 120 members support this formula. However, even these supporters cannot determine where the borders of one state end and the borders of the other begins. As this path reached a dead end, the “Palestinian problem” was redefined as the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. However, even at this point, the problem of ambiguity persists. For their part, proponents of settlements have never indicated how far settlements should be allowed to expand, while opponents of settlements have never specified how many settlements should be dismantled. In any case, the dismantling of all the settlements in Gaza did not succeed in achieving the desired peace.

Polling station at an Arab town in Israel in November 2022.(Reuters Ammar Awad)

Over time, talking about the settlement issue has become tedious and consuming. A new version of the “Palestinian problem” has emerged and has been recycled: Israeli apartheid. In apartheid South Africa, people of color and black people were not allowed to vote or be elected. On the other hand, we find that within Israel non-Jewish citizens can do both, which they do in practice. Palestinians in the West Bank do not have these rights, because they are not citizens of Israel. Apparently, the majority of Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank understand this, and the Palestinians understand that no Israeli coalition, whether left, right or center, is going to offer them a deal they can accept. They also realize that the “Palestinian cause” is often exploited by ambitious Israeli politicians to cover their own nakedness in terms of the credible policies they hold. In 2000, Ariel Sharon visited to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, accompanied by a huge entourage, as the opening shot in an election campaign that ended in his victory as prime minister. Today, the new defense minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, is re-enacting a similar scene, in which he appears as a dwarf cartoon image of Sharon. The truth is that, as has happened with Sharon, Ben-Gvir’s visit to the holy site only received attention once he entered office. Indeed, Ben-Gvir seems more interested in milking the Israeli state’s cow for worldly gains than in offering credible policies to Israeli society in general. In fact, Dershowitz is wrong. Israel is not a country deeply divided. The reality tells us that less than 10% of the electorate chose what has been called the “extreme right” bloc, even though the Haredi base on which it relies, an ultra-Orthodox version of Judaism, constitutes 12% of the total population. The most recent poll revealed that only 31% of Israelis view the “Palestinian issue” as their primary concern. Opinion polls within the West Bank also reveal that policies related to livelihood and the eradication of corruption are top priorities for Palestinians. Thus, it becomes clear that the excessive obsession with the “Palestinian cause” is an issue that has no clear solution, and has diverted many efforts away from the current problems facing both the Israelis and the Palestinians. A nation brimming with creativity like Israel should not be driven into a state of intransigence by politicians like Ben-Gvir over the “Palestinian problem.” Life is much richer than Ben-Gvir’s fantasies. This problem will not find a solution until the Israelis and the Palestinians are convinced that a solution serves their own interests. It is clear that this conviction has not yet been achieved. And even if it ever materializes, there is no guarantee that those who have benefited from the problem and built national strategies around it will allow a solution to be agreed upon and implemented. Meanwhile, we have no choice but to see the status quo continue to persist and pledge to preserve it.

– Amir Taheri 


By Bashara Charbel

Nida Al-Watan, Lebanon, January 7, 2023

If Alfred Hitchcock was destined to return to life, he could not have chosen a better scene than the scene of seagulls hovering over the Costa Brava Landfill located outside Beirut International Airport. Recently, the chairman of the Board of Directors of Middle East Airlines (MEA) demanded that the airline be allowed to bring in hunters who will shoot the seagulls and prevent them from threatening aircraft.

Birds from local rubbish dump causing a threat to Beirut Airport.

This isn’t a fantasy, but rather a real proposal that may translate into a catastrophe for hundreds of people and their families. This story is a classic example of overlapping authorities between the Lebanese government, private corporations and average citizens – with no one claiming responsibility over the issue at hand. The issue of aircraft safety at the Beirut Airport is an issue that should never be undermined. But seagulls are far from the only threat to the airport’s operations.

Lebanon’s seaside Costa Brava dump threatens not only the environment but also airplanes.

Several airplanes have been hit by indiscriminate bullets over the past few weeks. The government must step in and take ownership over this issue. This current situation of overlapping powers and loyalties, conflicts between security agencies and widespread nepotism, is unsustainable. Everyone is walking on eggshells when it comes to the airport. Hezbollah refuses to let anyone intervene, with the fear that its’ steady source of dollars, arriving on planes from Tehran, would be interrupted. This is a microcosm of Lebanon’s problems and an example of the state’s problematic relationship with Hezbollah. Expecting our corrupt political system to reform itself is too ambitious. But where are the deputies of the Baabda District, to which the airport land belongs? Where are the honorable deputies representing Beirut, who are seeing their country’s only international gateway being put at risk, but aren’t lifting a finger? Finding solutions isn’t difficult, provided that there is a will for compromise. Either the airport belongs to the state and is subject to state law, scrutiny, and management – or it is owned by a substate actor that has de-facto authority over it.

– Bashara Charbel

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).


Two Arab writers opining on Middle East issues write on the 2022 World Cup in Qatar unveiling as much a ‘clash of values’ as a clash of competing football teams


By Abdul Latif Al-Minawy

Al-Masry Al-Youm, Egypt, November 25

As I write these lines, Breel Embolo, a football (soccer) player on the Swiss national team, scored the winning goal for his team in its World Cup match against Cameroon. This might seem normal to the average reader, but those who are familiar with the player’s background will immediately understand the irony, since Embolo is Cameroonian by birth. One can only imagine how confused – and perhaps torn – the player felt when he scored the goal. Embolo couldn’t be happy or sad. The sadness on his face wasn’t the “ordinary” sadness one would expect from a professional football player who beats his former team. Rather, it was sadness over injustice – the injustice that forced him to leave Africa, abandon his homeland, and move to Switzerland. Few professional opportunities exist for people in Africa. Therefore, exceptionally talented Africans – be it athletes, musicians, artists, or scholars – look to Europe for a better future. At home, they will have to face issues like corruption and nepotism. Abroad, they will have a fair chance for development and growth. And while many talented Africans find themselves pursuing a professional career abroad, nowhere is this more heartbreaking to observe than in sports, where an African player may find himself playing against his own home country’s national team.

Football isn’t just a game. Rather, it is a microcosm of life.

Mixed Feelings. A muted celebration for Breel Embolo after scoring his first World Cup goal for Switzerland against his birth country Cameroon. (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)

The World Cup is an opportunity for countries to demonstrate their skill and power against others. In beating Cameroon on the playing field, Switzerland affirmed its position as a force to be reckoned with. It is a model for life, neither a continuous winner nor a continuous loser, Jürgen Klopp, the manager of Premier League club Liverpool answered when asked about his permanent smile even when he his team loses. He said:

It is because when my son was born I realized that football is not a matter of life or death. We do not save people’s lives.”

Football should not spread misfortune, hatred and misery. Football should be about joy and inspiration.  

Abdul Latif Al-Minawy


By Meshary Al-Dhaidi 

Alsharq Al-Awsat, London, November 23

The FIFA World Cup is not just the premier sporting event in the Western world, but it is also an occasion to promote Western values across the globe. For a long time, we’ve witnessed liberal values, which were once considered radical, assume the center stage of Western societies. I’m not talking about the normalization of homosexuality or same-sex marriage. I’m talking about how the entire concept of gender has been questioned. There is no more “male” and “female,” but a wide host of other gender identities that people can assume. Even young children are being indoctrinated and taught these ideas and values at school today. These values are being put to the test in the current FIFA World Cup games held in Qatar.

Clash of Values. Football federations who had planned to wear the ‘OneLove‘ armbands to make a statement against discrimination during the World Cup in Qatar were faced with “extreme blackmail” that led to dropping the planned action said German FA.(Photo Reuters)

The International Federation of Football Associations banned the wearing of gay symbols, badges and apparel during the games, including the “one love” badge. This angered some European teams, including Germany’s national team, whose players were filmed covering their mouths – as if they are silenced – ahead of their first match. The Germans lost that game to Japan, and some cynics commented on the score by showing a caricature of the German players with an image of a rainbow in their heads playing against the Japanese players, who had an image of a football in their minds. According to a BBC report, seven European national team captains were expected to wear the “one love” armband during the games. The German Football Association claimed that “depriving us of wearing the armband is like depriving us of speaking.” The only thing that FIFA allowed the captains of the teams was to wear the “no discrimination” badge throughout the tournament period. This is what Germany’s captain and goalkeeper Manuel Neuer did in the match against Japan. However, the truth is that the Western insolence doesn’t even reflect all the players on the Western teams. For example, the captain of the French national team, Hugo Lloris, announced that he would not wear the armband because he wanted to pay respect to his Qatari hosts. They might not like it, but Westerners visiting Qatar for the World Cup games may just discover that the universe doesn’t revolve around their own values. They are neither the source of truth, nor are they the ultimate manufacturers of noble values. Other societies, other peoples, and other countries might not agree with their liberal philosophies and worldviews. They may have their own beliefs, but those beliefs are far from universal. Perhaps a trip to Qatar is what it takes for them to understand this simple reality.

 – Meshary Al-Dhaidi 

*(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).

The Arab Voice – September 2022

In this selection, Arab writers on the Middle East opine on the Israeli perspective of why it is escalating the war in Syria and following the death of Queen Elizabeth II, a review of the legacy of English colonialism on Egypt.


By Kheir Allah Kheir Allah

Al Rai, Kuwait, September 9

Israel recently conducted two airstrikes against the Aleppo airport within a single week. Air traffic was disrupted for two or three days because of the first strike and more damage was caused to the airport runway the second time. It is still unknown when the airport will resume its normal operation in light of these attacks. Israel’s actions reveal an atmosphere of tension in the region, especially considering Tel Aviv’s insistence on preventing the flow of Iranian weapons into Syria and, from there, into Lebanon.

This photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows a bulldozer working on a damaged runway of the Damascus International Airport, after it was hit by an Israeli airstrike, in Damascus, Syria, June 12, 2022.

While we don’t know how things will evolve, it is clear that the government of Yair Lapid, which is on the brink of a general election that will determine its fate in less than two months, is willing to go far to prevent Iran from establishing its foothold on Israel’s borders. Lebanon and southern Syria have joined other regions like the Gaza Strip, Iraq, and Yemen, in the long list of places where Iranian missiles can reach deep into Israeli territory. There is nothing funny about the Israeli insistence on launching strikes inside Syria. The only funny thing about the matter is the Syrian regime’s response to the two recent Aleppo raids, which it considered “war crimes”. Prior to the raids, Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad claimed that “Israel is playing with fire and pushing the region into a war.” In an interview with Russian TV, Mekdad was asked about his country’s lax response to Israeli raids on Syrian territory. The minister responded by warning Israel that Syria maintains the right to respond “whenever it wants using whatever means it has” and that “Syria’s patience must not be tested.” Mekdad didn’t clarify the meaning of the phrase “whatever means” and what he meant by it. Given recent geopolitical developments, including the potential of signing a new nuclear agreement with Iran, Israel has no choice but to escalate the situation. The Israeli escalation comes at a time when the entire region is dealing with the repercussions of four simultaneous crises. The first is the crisis of the Syrian regime itself. The second is the crisis of the American inability to play a constructive and clear role in the Middle East and the Gulf. The third is the energy crisis, which has become a global problem following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The fourth is the crisis of the Iranian regime. At the basis of the Iranian regime’s crisis is an expansionist project based on spreading sectarian militias in the region so that the Islamic Republic emerges as the dominant regional power. Israel’s strikes in Syria take place where the four crises converge. What will Israel do as it finds itself increasingly encircled by Iran and its proxies with each passing day? The answer is very simple: It has no choice but to escalate. The option of escalation has become clear and has even received a degree of American blessing. Even if the Biden Administration signs a new deal with the Islamic Republic, the White House will not play a role in restraining Israel and preventing it from escalation. Interestingly, the Israeli strikes on Syrian territory come in the wake of a Turkish-Israeli rapprochement, which was most recently expressed by the visit of a Turkish military frigate to Haifa Port. This is something that happened for the first time since 2010. Is it a coincidence that this rapprochement comes at this particular time and in light of Israel’s expansion of its military operations in Aleppo, located not far from Turkey?

Only time will tell. 

-Kheir Allah Kheir Allah


By Osama Al-Ghazali Harb

Al-Ahram, Egypt, September 10

At the age of nearly 96, the UK’s Queen Elizabeth II died last week. She ruled for more than seven decades, marking the longest period of a living head of state in the world.

I will refrain from using this column to summarize the reactions and comments broadcast around the world about the late queen. However, on this occasion, I would like to note some of my own impressions about the British Crown, especially since Egypt was under British occupation until 1954, when the government of Gamal Abdel Nasser succeeded in driving British troops out of the country.

The then Prince of Wales, (today King Charles lll) and then Duchess of Cornwall visiting Egypt in November 2021.

When I heard of the queen’s death, I immediately recalled a book that I had read at an early age – about 16 years old – in my father’s library. The book’s title was The Secret of the Progress of the Anglo-Saxons. The book immediately caught my eye! Among many other things, the book taught me that the natural and understandable rejection of the English occupation of Egypt shouldn’t prevent us from recognizing the great advantages and developments brought about by the British nation.

The funny thing is that this book is nothing but a translation of a French book first published in 1897, in which its author tries to crack the secret behind the advantage held by the English over the French.

In keeping with the saying “with everything bad comes something good as well,” while Britain looted India it also left a positive legacy.

As for me, the book prompted me to ask myself: Did we, the Egyptian people and government, learn anything from the English? Indeed, many of Egypt’s brilliant students traveled to study in Britain and returned home with their degrees to benefit our people and our country. But have we learned and benefited from the institutions left behind by the Brits in Egypt?

I don’t think so! I know that the Indians, who were also subjected to British occupation, learned three important things from the English: the English language, administration, and democracy.

So what have we learned?

– Osama Al-Ghazali Harb

(*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).


Arab writers opining on Middle East issues, focus from Egypt being on the right trajectory to the danger of Syria fragmenting into autonomous regions and a hoping for a return of US warm relations with the Gulf



By Karam Gabr 

Akhbar el-Yom, Egypt, June 2

In May 2015, a group of 159 pro-Muslim Brotherhood clerics from across the Arab and Muslim world published the “Al-Kinana Call”, in which they accused the Egyptian government of being “criminal and murderous” and declared religious war on the Egyptian people. The signatories issued religious verdicts permitting the killing of innocent Egyptian civilians in the name of their goal of restoring Mohammed Morsi back to the presidency. This criminal gang was no different from the thugs of ISIS, the Houthis, and al-Qaida. They came from countries such as Pakistan, Libya, and Afghanistan – all of which have been ravaged by religious wars. These thugs wanted the fate of Egyptian women to be just like the fate of women found in their own failed societies. They were consumed by jealousy and bitterness after witnessing the bustling streets of Cairo come back to life, unlike their own destroyed capitals that have been wrecked by their wars.

Moving On. Seen here in 2020, President Sisi’s government wants Egyptians to stop regarding Tahrir Square as a place of revolution.( Khaled Desouki · AFP · Getty)

Thankfully, the Egyptian army stood guard and protected our country against these attacks. Its men didn’t fragment or crumble. Indeed, had it not been for the steadfastness of our great army, these mercenaries would have occupied Egypt’s palaces and mosques, plundered its bounties, and subjugated its women. But Egypt defied them and shattered their dreams of forming a caliphate. This month, June, marks the nine-year anniversary of the demonstrations that brought down Morsi’s regime. It was a day in which Egypt entered a new age; one in which a dark black cloud was lifted from upon us. Bleak memories still haunt all of us: the use of force against protestors, our squares being occupied by thugs, the violence and bloodshed in our streets. Yet we, the Egyptian people, prevailed.

We chose to look to the future. We managed to keep those evil forces away from our country and move forward as one.

– Karam Gabr 



By Riad Naasan Agha 

Al-Itihad, UAE, June 1

The announcement of the establishment of a safe zone in Syria – to which several million displaced Syrians will return – raises concerns and mixed feelings among Syrians.

They urgently need a safe territory to return to, after years of movement in search of safety. If such a safe zone is provided to them within their homeland, many of them will return to Syria without hesitation. However, there is genuine concern that this safe area will turn into a small statelet that motivates others to establish autonomous regions – thereby leading to further geographical, sectarian and ethnic division in Syria.

Future Uncertain. A Syrian refugee camp in north-west Iraq. Will these thousands of refugees ever return to Syria and if so to where in Syria and under what security arrangements?

The truth is that people have few hopes for a political resolution to the Syrian crisis following 11 years of suffering. Millions of Syrian refugees are likely to remain scattered around the world, living in tents and makeshift dwellings. A generation of hundreds of thousands of Syrian children and adolescents has grown up without schooling. Most of them have no future. While the fears of the refugees who are expected to return are centered around the safety mechanisms that would be implemented in order to protect them and provide them with basic necessities, international consensus has still not been reached. The United States and the European Union must be the ultimate guarantors for this. It’s also worth remembering that this safe zone is only a local and temporary solution, designed primarily for Syrian refugees located in Turkey. Our fathers and grandfathers lived through an era in which Syria was divided under the French Mandate. Their silver lining was the fact that they were all united as one against a foreign enemy – an occupier – from whom they sought independence. They worked to build a unified country where all segments of society can peacefully coexist. However, the current situation differs dramatically. The future of Syria seems more dangerous than its present. Syrian society is deeply divided and fractured. Sadly, no one knows what the future will bring for this war-torn country.

– Riad Naasan Agha 



By Rami Caliph Al-Ali

Okaz, Saudi Arabia, June 10

There has been increasing talk in the American capital about the necessity of returning warmth to US-Gulf relations, especially with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Perhaps the loudest and clearest voice came from a paper presented to the Council on Foreign Relations, prepared by Steven Cook, a researcher specializing in international relations, and Martin Indyk, a former diplomat who worked in the Middle East. As of the writing of these lines, this paper has not been published but was referred to by Fareed Zakaria in an article published in The Washington Post. Regardless of the details of the Cook-Indyk paper, there is consensus among observers of Middle East politics that the policy pursued by the Biden Administration toward the Gulf has undermined American interests. The Gulf, with Saudi Arabia at its heart, is the key to the Middle East. If you try to marginalize it, you will practically marginalize your role and presence in the region, and this is what happened with the United States. As for Riyadh, we realize that relations with Washington were and still are strategic when they are based on clear foundations, which are those agreed upon by the founding King Abdulaziz Al-Saud with President Franklin Roosevelt. The relations were based on security, defense, and economic cooperation with full respect for the kingdom’s sovereignty and its location in the heart of the Islamic world, and noninterference in its internal affairs. But if Washington wants to turn against these foundations and play a paternalistic role vis-à-vis the kingdom, then it must expect that Riyadh will search for other allies. Therefore, it is a welcome change that Washington is reconsidering its stance. This will require a frank and honest dialogue between Washington and Riyadh, which will focus on two things.

Great Expectations. Seen here visiting Riyadh when he was vice-president in 2011, there is much hope of restoring US warm relations when as President, Biden visits  his Middle East allies amid strains.

The first aspect is respecting the sovereignty of Gulf states and avoiding arrogant and patronizing discourse toward its leaders. The second aspect, which is no less important, is finding a common vision surrounding the region’s most burning issues, starting with the Iranian nuclear file and the need to involve the countries of the region in the talks with Iran. 

Rami Caliph Al-Ali

*(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).


Arab writers opining on Middle East issues, unpack worrying syndrome of men’s sexual harassment of women; Israel seeking a modus operandi in dealing with Iran and President Putin’s respect for Islam.

Unacceptable Behavior Toward Women

By Khaled Montaser

El-Watan, Egypt, May 5

One of the most concerning phenomena we’re witnessing among our younger generations today is predatory behavior toward women. This behavior consists of harassing any young woman who dares take to the street with her hair untied or while wearing a piece of clothing that reveals some skin. You find a terrifying number of young men and teenagers descending into the streets and parks like hungry hyenas, looking for their prey. They congregate in groups, catcall, harass and assault innocent women who pass by them. Their worldview is distorted and sick. It is supported by a long tradition of degrading and dehumanizing women. And unfortunately, these anti-women sentiments also are common on our computer and television screens.

In Plain Sight. Young Egyptian boys sexually harassing women crossing a busy Cairo street. (File photo courtesy:

Our children are playing video games and watching movies and television shows that give them a dangerous conception of toxic masculinity.  What’s even worse is that these messages also are echoed by some religious preachers, who fault women for “seducing” men with their clothing and appearance. To them, a woman appearing in public with uncovered hair is inviting this despicable behavior upon herself. Needless to say, women have full control, decision and liberty over their bodies. They can dress however they see fit and wear their hair in whatever way they want. This doesn’t give license to anyone to approach them and harass them on the street. Educating our children against this kind of repulsive behavior begins at home.

– Khaled Montaser

Israel and Its Stance Toward Iran

By Tariq Fahmy

Al-Ittihad, UAE, May 6

Israel is home to a handful of think tanks and research centers focused on identifying the risks and challenges facing the state in the short and medium term, while developing long-term national strategic visions. The best political and strategic minds in Israel work at these centers. A core focus of these research centers in recent months has been the issue of a nuclear Iran. Specifically, Israeli experts are busy analyzing how the failure of the recent negotiations with Iran over a renewed nuclear deal will affect the future of the region. Based on the reports and briefs published by these centers, it seems as if there still are a few major gaps between the Israeli and American positions on the Iranian nuclear file. The bilateral discussions held recently between the two countries didn’t help close the gaps. The US administration warned Israel against taking unilateral measures against Iran that would sabotage the agreement. The Americans also tried to convince their Israeli counterparts that the agreement poses no real risk to Israel’s security. Meanwhile, growing voices in Israel warn against overreliance on the US and are calling for Israel to develop its own plan of action against Iran’s nuclear program, even if it requires entering into a direct confrontation with Iran.

Sticking to his ‘Guns’. Following his landslide victory, Iran’s then president-elect said he wouldn’t meet with US President Joe Biden, nor negotiate over Tehran’s ballistic missile program and its support of regional terror groups.

The US administration realizes that silencing Israel’s voice isn’t as simple as it seems. Concluding arms deals, financing the Iron Dome system, or allocating additional resources to Israel’s Arrow system won’t silence the Israeli government. Rather, the US must respond to Israel’s comprehensive security concerns and protect it from any future war with Iran. The advice given by Israeli strategists to Naftali Bennett’s government focuses on the necessity of separating the strategic from the political, focusing on Israel’s long-term priorities regardless of the agreement signed between Washington and Tehran. In other words, if Israel feels a need to protect itself from an external threat, it may very well take unilateral action without receiving permission from anyone.

– Tariq Fahmy

President Putin and Islam

By Farouk Jweideh

Al-Masry Al-Youm, Egypt, May 7

President Vladimir Putin grew up in the Soviet era, in a political climate that rejected the concept of religion. Soviets were pushed to abandon religion and “convert” to atheism. Indeed, religious property was confiscated, while religious figureheads were harassed and ridiculed. However, the recent war between Russia and Ukraine revealed many mysterious aspects of President Putin’s personality and worldview. For example, the Russian president condemned the publishing of cartoons that offend the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him. Putin stressed that this is far from freedom of creativity, and demanded that people respect sanctities, even if their beliefs differ. He subsequently banned the publishing of any cartoons depicting the prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, in all Russian media. Among the stories that are told about President Putin is that he puts a copy of the Holy Quran on his desk and often reads verses in his meetings and conversations with Muslim leaders.

Religious Tolerance. Speaking in 2015 at the reopening of Moscow Central Mosque alongside Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Putin said: “Muslim opinion leaders always contribute to the development of peace and common sense against extremism in Russia.”

He used to give copies of the Holy Quran to Muslim presidents, including historical copies, as happened with the president of Iran, the emir of Qatar, and the president of Syria. Some claim that this is mere political propaganda, but others believe that this is due to Putin’s respect for religions. Today, Russia has 6,000 mosques and millions of Muslims who enjoy full freedom of worship. Throughout history, Russia hasn’t witnessed any major hostility with Islam, nor did it enter any religious conflicts. The Islamic republics preserved all their religious and social rights. This explains President Putin’s warm relations with the peoples of these republics and respect for their religions, especially since many of them have a long history with Islam.

-Farouk Jweideh

*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).

The Arab Voice  –  February- March 2022

Arab writers opining on Middle East issues, focus on Ukraine cautioning Arab countries to remain neutral in a conflict between superpowers while carving a space in the world arena

Vladimir Putin’s calculated choice

By Amr al-Shobaki 

Al-Masry Al-Youm, Egypt, February 28

Russian forces have advanced toward the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, and are positioned on the city’s outskirts. They’ve succeeded in destroying dozens of Ukrainian military sites, leaving hundreds of civilian casualties, including children.

The supposed goal behind the Russian campaign is to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO, and to install a pro-Moscow puppet regime that will be submissive to the Kremlin.

According to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s worldview, the only way to change the political calculus in Eastern Europe is to use brute force, not diplomacy. This is ironic given the fact that many of Russia’s conflicts have taken place in neighboring territories that share not only a common culture with Russia but also extensive trade relations. Therefore, one would assume that soft power would also be a tool used by the Kremlin.

The timing of Russia’s assault isn’t coincidental. Moscow has chosen the winter, when the European need for Russian gas is at its peak. Indeed, what we’ve seen is that France and Germany, the two largest beneficiaries of Russian gas, were those most reluctant to act against Putin and his government. They changed their stances only when other EU states severed their ties with Moscow and hardened their position toward Russia.

Putin’s Plans! Will the Russian president prolong the war leading to more casualties, stop at Ukraine or will he violate the sovereignty of other countries, such as Poland?

Furthermore, Putin’s timing is advantageous due to political reasons as well. The American democracy today suffers from both internal and external challenges, and the recent American withdrawal from Afghanistan has undermined America’s credibility in the world. It is highly unlikely that the Biden administration will push for an active American intervention in Ukraine.

Of course, none of these factors suggest that Putin will win this war. The Russian president’s fate will be determined to a great degree by his immediate next steps: Will he prolong the war and lead to more casualties? Will he stop at Ukraine, or violate the sovereignty of other countries, such as Poland?

Regardless of the outcome, it’s important to remember that Putin’s steps are a product of a clear and calculated strategy. The Russian president considered his options and chose a military campaign to achieve his goals.

So far, despite the sanctions imposed on Moscow, many of Putin’s calculations seem to have been correct: NATO has not deployed ground troops to fight in Ukraine, and Western support remains limited on the ground. Russia will emerge victorious, if it succeeds in bringing about a quick ceasefire that would guarantee its cultural and political dominance over Ukraine for years to come.

Anything else would be a failure for Moscow.

– Amr al-Shobaki 

Russia, Ukraine & Arab countries’ interests

By Abdullah bin Bijad Al Otaibi 

Al-Ittihad, UAE, March 1

The Russian invasion of Ukraine may very well represent the single most acute crisis of our time. It is a major international crisis in every sense of the word – one that has both an ancient and modern history to it.

On the one hand, we have Russian President Vladimir Putin, who seeks to rebuild the Soviet Union and weaken any Western influence on Russia’s borders. On the other hand, we have the Ukrainian people, who are being killed and displaced en masse and are seeking assurances from NATO and the EU pertaining to the protection of their sovereignty.

Meanwhile, no quick solution is in sight. Russia’s military campaign is far from decisive, while Western sanctions against Russia are only beginning to bear fruit. A crisis of this depth and complexity cannot be resolved overnight.

Notably, the Arab world isn’t involved in this crisis. Not a single Arab country is a party to this conflict, neither closely nor from afar.

Russia in a Quagmire. Did Putin anticipate the extent of economic sanctions by Western countries that are causing a serious disruption to Russia’s economy and its citizens.

The problem, however, is that some voices in the Arab media are seeking to imitate their Western counterparts by taking sides politically and introducing bias into their coverage of the unfolding events. The truth is that neutrality is possible. Presenting the issue from multiple viewpoints and angles isn’t hard to do.

Furthermore, it is the responsibility of Arab news outlets to represent the Arab interest in this conflict and analyze the events from the Arab viewpoint. The Arab world must look after its own interests, avoid getting involved in a conflict between great powers, and know how to carve out a space in the international arena. That should be our primary goal at a time when the guns are roaring on the international battlefield.

– Abdullah bin Bijad Al Otaibi 

Ukraine & emergence of a new world order

By Ali al-Khushiban

Al Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 2

The global arena is messy and confusing, and everyone is looking toward Kyiv with apprehension and concern for the future of our world order. Moreover, a wildfire can easily erupt from the ashes still found underneath the ground of every European capital.

Therefore, the United States and the EU are being extra wary of inadvertently invoking any form of European national conflict due to their actions in Ukraine.

The fact of the matter is that the deep crisis we’re witnessing won’t simply disappear once Russia wins or loses this war. Today, President Vladimir Putin seeks to create an ideological axis that crystallizes the parity between Russia and the West and consolidates Moscow’s position as a force that has a serious role in shaping the new world order.

UNcertain Future. Is the UN’s future on the line over Ukraine

The most important question revolves around the ability of the West to tame Russia through nonmilitary means. But the current crisis is already giving rise to a new world order, in which great powers will rely more heavily on the use of force, and perhaps one in which wars will become more common.

Ultimately, it’s clear that the West will not accept a balance of power in which Russia determines the fate of all Eastern European countries. The war in Ukraine will set a precedent for other conflicts to come. And if the West fails to set the tone and mold this new international system to its own benefit, it will quickly discover that the situation is no longer in its control.

– Ali al-Khushiban

*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).

The Arab Voice  – January 2022

Arab writers opining on Middle East issues, focus on the existential danger of Iran to the precarious futures of Lebanon and Yemen and factor in Israel and the Iran nuclear deal

Israel and the Nuclear Deal

By Tarek Fahmy

Al-Arabiya, Saudi Arabia, January 23

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett recently noted that Iran is at the top of the list of challenges to Israel, and that he is concerned about the ongoing Vienna negotiations that seek to revive the 2015 agreement.

This coincided with a renewed political rhetoric about the necessity of reaching an agreement that would prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear capabilities, in addition to imposing restrictions on its development of a ballistic missile system, preventing its entrenchment in Syria, stopping its weapons transfers to Hezbollah and Hamas, and curbing its involvement in regional terrorism.

If a new agreement doesn’t encapsulate and stop all of these activities, Israel would be prepared to roll out a military option that would target Iran. 

The Israeli focus is no longer on the nuclear threat alone, but also on Tehran’s aggressive practices in the region. Tel Aviv is working tirelessly to convince other countries of the necessity of setting a time limit for the negotiations in order to push Iran into making concessions.

On the other hand, there is a growing camp in Israel consisting of security and political officials who support an agreement with Iran. This camp believes that Tehran could be forced to reach a compromise that includes everything related to both its nuclear program and ballistic missile program.

In general, Israel vehemently opposes any return to the original agreement, as Washington wants, as this would mean enabling Iran to come closer to its goal of building a nuclear bomb, even if it doesn’t violate the agreement. The mullahs view such an agreement as a temporary pause rather than a complete termination of their nuclear program. 

Arab media is rife with speculation as to whether Israel is coming to terms  of the possibility of a limited nuclear deal emerging in Vienna and the impact it might have for the region.

Despite all of the above, Israel hopes that the Biden administration will succeed in achieving a breakthrough in the negotiations that will be palatable to the Israeli public. Maj.-Gen. Aharon Haliva, head of the IDF’s Operations Directorate, recently told the Israeli government that it is better for Israel to have Iran reach an agreement than it is for the talks to collapse, which indicates a remarkable shift in the position of the Israeli military establishment.

It is noteworthy that this change in recent Israeli assessments also consisted of a changing assessment of the Iranian position. Originally, the view in Israel was that Iran isn’t serious in its intentions and is simply exploiting the negotiations in Vienna in order to buy time. Yet the current strategic assessment in Israel is that Iran is interested in reaching a deal.

The Israeli question remains strategic and political: What would a binding deal consist of? And which loopholes are the mullahs already planning in order to evade responsibility and continue their covert activity?

In the meantime, Israel will continue planning and preparing for a military option, but its leaders, even the skeptics, hope that diplomacy will come to the rescue.

Tarek Fahmy

Houthis are Iranians of Yemen

By Farouk Yousef

Al-Arab, London, January 22

Abdul-Malik al-Houthi doesn’t need to use the language of Hassan Nasrallah to express his loyalty to Iran and his involvement in implementing the instructions of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. Iran itself doesn’t hide the fact that it’s behind Houthi in the war he and his rebels are waging in the Arabian Gulf. Houthi is an Iranian soldier, as is Nasrallah. Both are hoping that Iran will bring them to power in their respective countries, despite the fact that their respective publics vehemently oppose their rule.

Iran is extremely skilled at creating crises, but terribly inept at solving them. Wreaking havoc and causing bloodshed is within its wheelhouse; ending wars and taking responsibility for its actions are not part of its competency. In a moment of despair, the mullahs may very well leave Nasrallah and his army alone in the face of the Lebanese people. This is the same situation in which Houthi and his supporters, who claim to be Ansar Allah, can soon find themselves. 

Is there a path to peace in Yemen?

I’m not exaggerating when I say that Houthi and Nasrallah are more Iranian than the Iranian regime itself. Followers often fall into that immoral trap. Iran is fighting through the Houthis, and it considers them its impenetrable dam and its front against imperialism, but in its Arab form. But Iran doesn’t dare fire a single shot at Western imperialism, nor at its creation, Israel.

Houthi understands, as well as Nasrallah, that a war against the Arabs can go by without international punishment. For example, Nasrallah has forgotten his immortal enemy, Israel, and has devoted all of his group’s energy to fighting Saudi Arabia. Houthi is a faded version of Nasrallah. For both men, loyalty to Iran prevailed over loyalty to their own nations.

Many Yemenis who support Houthi will regret their decision when they discover that he has sold Yemen in exchange for his adherence to Iranian ideology. The Houthis aren’t an Iranian creation, but they decided to be worse than that when they put themselves at the service of the Iranian project, which is based on permanent ruin. Yemen has been sabotaged by the Houthis beyond repair. 

The same is true of Lebanon at the hands of Hezbollah. The Lebanese people have finally come to the understanding that any attempt to revive Lebanon must involve dismantling Hezbollah. It’s either Lebanon or Hezbollah. Unfortunately, no United Nations envoy can understand this simple reality.

The “Iranians of Yemen” are a new nationalism that will play a role in destroying its future.

Farouk Yousef

*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).

The Arab Voice

November – December  2021

Arab writers opining on the political landscape of the Middle East question the efficacy of the British government’s action against Hamas; prognosticating on the thinking of  Iran’s new leaders and the lessons to be learned from Israel’s successful state-building methodology.

Designating Hamas a Terror Organization Isn’t Enough

By Meshary Al-Dhaidy 

Asharq Al-Awsat, London, December 3

Last week, the United Kingdom’s parliament approved the designation of Hamas as a terrorist organization, effectively outlawing the Palestinian group that rules the Gaza Strip. This is a misleading and perhaps even contradictory decision given the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood – the organization from which Hamas drew inspiration – still operates freely out of the heart of London. In fact, roughly 30% of the Brotherhood’s proceeds are generated and collected in Britain. The same is true of Hamas. Through 13 organizations and associations based in the UK, Hamas has been funneling money into its own hands, behind the authorities’ backs. Most of this has been done with the help of the Brotherhood and its robust presence throughout the UK. Indeed, Heshmat Khalifa, the head of the UK’s largest Muslim charity, used his Facebook page to describe Hamas as “the purest resistance movement in modern history.”

Targeting Terror. Home Secretary Priti Patel  – seen here with PM Boris Johnson – described Hamas as “fundamentally and rabidly antisemitic” and said there’s no difference between its military and political wings.

He further suggested that classifying Hamas’ military wing as a terror organization is a “disgrace to all Muslims.” Keep in mind that this is the very same person who managed a fund totaling over 7 million British pounds targeted at various Muslim charities and causes. It has also been revealed that Brotherhood leaders helped funnel money to Hamas by wiring donations collected in the UK into several Egyptian companies which, in turn, transferred the money into the Gaza Strip. Therefore, it’s clear that the British decision against Hamas is devoid of any practicality and efficacy. The only way to truly cut off Hamas’ funding is to cut off funding for the international Muslim Brotherhood organization. The Brotherhood is a vital organ without which Hamas cannot exist. If we want to kill the snake, we mustn’t aim at the tail, but at the head.

 Meshary Al-Dhaidy 

New Faces and New Fears in Tehran

By Amir Tahe

Asharq al-Awsat, London, November 3

What do you do when you feel an urge to do something but, at the same time, you’re embarrassed about doing it? This is the exact question that Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran Ayatollah Ali Khamenei faced this week, as he contemplated how to deal with one of his annual rituals celebrating the seizure of the US Embassy in Tehran and the taking of US diplomats hostage on November 4, 1979.

During the eight-year tenure of President Hassan Rouhani, the celebration of this occasion mellowed and turned into a small, symbolic gathering at the site of the old embassy, consisting of a few camera shots taken for State TV.

In the past two years, in particular, many of the prominent elements that have always been associated with such a celebration have disappeared.

Quo Vadis? Where does Iran go with its new hardline President Ebrahim Raisi, known as “the butcher of Tehran”?

For example, the annual “A World Without America” symposium, which for decades has been attended by anti-American professionals from all over the world (including from the United States itself), was completely removed from the program. The likes of Louis Farrakhan, Oliver Stone, Sean Penn and other self-hating Americans weren’t invited to make their annual pilgrimage to Tehran.

Similarly, Iranian readers were spared another translation of Noam Chomsky’s latest hate speech against the United States.

Among the other missing events was “The End of Israel” symposium that brought together Holocaust deniers from all over the world, and the accompanying international antisemitic cartoon exhibition.

However, with the rise to power of President Ebrahim Raisi, there was widespread expectation that some of these vitriolic rituals would be revived.

Surprisingly, however, this did not happen. Even stranger, it seems as if the new Iranian leadership chose to reduce the annual celebration even more.

Officials tried to do this in several ways. Among them was an attempt to attach other slogans to the “November 4 events” that were supposed to celebrate “the humiliation of the American Great Satan.” Among the new names given to the events were: “the anniversary of Imam Khomeini’s Exile” in 1964 (even though this happened on the fifth of November, not the fourth). Another title was the “day of the massacre perpetrated by the shah against primary and secondary school students and children” in 1976, although nothing like that happened at all.

It is clear that Raisi is almost as determined as his predecessor to tone down his government’s anti-American rhetoric.

The question is why? After all, a large part of the current regime’s discourse revolves around the claim that the previous government abandoned its jihad against the “Great Satan” in exchange for empty promises from former president Barack Obama.

One explanation is that the new regime believes that the “Great Satan” has already been significantly weakened, as was clearly evident in its recent evacuation from Afghanistan. According to Ayatollah Tayeb, the political-religious commissar of the Revolutionary Guards, the United States today is like “the carcass of a dead donkey that doesn’t even need to be skinned.”

Pursuing Old Hatreds. Demonstrators chant slogans on 4 November 2021 during a rally in front of the former US embassy commemorating the anniversary of its 1979 seizure in Tehran, Iran (Vahid Salemi/AP Photo)

However, such arrogant and ostentatious remarks often compensate for real fear.

In this context, the first fear is that the Biden administration may not be keen to repeal the policy of “maximum pressure” pursued by former president Donald Trump, which pushed the Islamic Republic to the brink of bankruptcy.

Another fear is that Biden, even if he wanted to, might not be able to lift enough sanctions on Iran, especially since lifting most sanctions requires the approval of the US Congress, which Biden cannot take for granted.

Another concern is that Biden may have given Israel the green light to carry out “limited, but decisive action” against Iran’s nuclear sites. Such a move would force the regime to cross the redline it has adhered to for four decades by providing a real response to military action against it.

Accordingly, Biden’s next step will be decisive. If the president gives in too easily, he may breathe new life into the demons of “old Tehran.” If he chooses to blow out empty statements, he may miss an opportunity to lend a helping hand to those seeking real regime change in Tehran. 

Amir Tahe

The Unhidden Jewish Secret

By Ahmad Al-Sarra

Al-Qabas, Kuwait, November 4

There is a huge gap between the Jews and their enemies or, more precisely, between Jews and the Arab world. This gap is not only represented by Israel’s military superiority over its neighbors, but also in its more progressive culture and conscience.

On the map, Israel looks as if it could easily be swallowed by its neighbors in a matter of seconds. However, it’s clear that it isn’t going anywhere. Although Arabs have lived in this region for thousands of years, what separated them has always been greater than what united them. In contrast, in Israel – where the overwhelming majority of the population immigrated from countless ethnic and cultural backgrounds – a unifying culture has been formed. Israelis were able, with limited resources and under the harshest conditions, to build up a national identity that is nothing short of a miracle.

So, what is Israel’s secret?

The Muslim Brotherhood is considered by many to be the only ideological and political organization capable of uniting people across the Middle East under one joint identity, similar to what the Zionist movement sought to do in the first Zionist Congress held in Basel in 1897. In only half a century, the Zionist movement succeeded in realizing its dream and established a modern state capable of imposing itself on the whole world. As for the Brotherhood, it has been trying for more than 90 years to do the same, but has failed time and again.

The success of the Zionist movement and the failure of the Brotherhood movement are due to several factors.

First, the Zionists succeeded in recruiting the best scientific and political minds to serve and lead their cause, regardless of these individuals’ adherence to traditional Jewish thought. This is what the Brotherhood failed in, as its choices were miserable from the get-go. The very nature of the Brotherhood precludes anyone who doesn’t adhere to the group’s view of Islam to actively take part in its activity.

Nation Building. Arabs in the region recognize how Jewish pioneers placed education as a top priority long before Israel’s independence as seen here with the construction in 1912 of the  Technion – Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa.

Second, whereas the Zionist movement was open about its goals, the Brotherhood always suffered from a lack of transparency about its ideology. No one truly knows the group’s plan for governance or its ultimate plans. We saw this clearly during its rule in Egypt, Tunisia and Sudan.

Third, and most important, the historical interest of the Jews in science and their known passion for reading and academic inquiry allowed them to establish a state with strong educational and cultural institutions from day one. As for the Brotherhood, it has proven its inability and failure scientifically, politically and culturally for nearly a century.

Finally, allow me to end with the following parting thought: A study conducted by the well-known American Pew Research Center in 2016 showed that the average Jew has 13.4 years of education, followed by Christians, with 9.3 years.

I’ll spare you the embarrassment of knowing what the same rate stands at in our countries. 

– Ahmad Al-Sarra

*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).

The Arab Voice – October 2021

Arab writers opining on the political landscape of the Middle East join the chorus of global concern of the autocratic power of Facebook while optimistic of the ascension of a woman to the premiership of Tunisia.

The Dictator Mark Zuckerberg

By Sawsan Al-Abtah 

Al-Arabiya, Saudi Arabia, October 16

The curious thing about Facebook is that the more scandals it turns out to be involved in, the more its followers fall in love with it. It doesn’t seem like Facebook account holders, knowing that their privacy is violated, exploited and blackmailed, feel the need to punish the perpetrator, despite their ability to do so. However, following the release of the documents leaked by former Facebook engineer Frances Haugen, as well as Haugen’s testimony before the US Congress about the platform’s manipulation of content through its algorithms, something may finally change.

Causing Conflict. Former Facebook employee Frances Haugen testifies before the Senate warning of how the platform can be used to create conflict. (Photograph by Jabin Botsford / Getty)

Democrats and Republicans alike seem more willing to condemn Facebook. The American tech giants that were once a symbol of America’s indomitable and incomparable liberalism, and the embodiment of the wonders of creativity, now seem like vicious tools used to manipulate the minds of innocent civilians and steal information. The first slap in the face came in 2018 when the British newspaper The Guardian revealed that the data and personal information used by Cambridge Analytica to influence the US elections and help Donald Trump get to power was obtained with the full support of Facebook, contrary to what the company had claimed. Then came another scandal about Russian interference in US politics through advertisements targeting voters. And despite the fact that Mark Zuckerberg himself came to testify before Congress, nothing changed. At that time, the manipulation was in favor of Trump, who was in the White House, so the US administration had an interest in letting the issue go. Then came another shock, when Facebook and Twitter blocked the accounts of President Trump following the violent events on Capitol Hill. This was the first time that the Western world finally had a taste of its own medicine and realized that Facebook regularly censors opinions. The same people who stood idly by as Facebook silenced the voices of the masses during the Arab Spring, who ignored Facebook’s systematic removal of testimonies shared by defenseless Palestinians under Israeli bombardment, now realized that they, too, can become Facebook’s next victims. America is at least 15 years late in putting an end to Facebook’s violations, which are among the most dangerous to democracy and freedom of expression in the world today. There is no democracy without transparency and accountability, and Facebook lacks both. This is also our problem, in the Arab world, where every election turns out to be the reelection of the same corrupt voices into power. We never learn our lesson. Mark Zuckerberg can be classified as the world’s largest dictator. He does not have armored vehicles, intercontinental missiles and submarines roaming the seas, but he does control the minds of more than a third of the world’s population. He can control their secrets, manipulate their moods and, in many cases, determine their fate.

– Sawsan Al-Abtah 

A Wakeup Slap From Facebook

By Mishari Al-Dhaidi

Asharq Al-Awsat, London, October 6

What happened last Monday, when the Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram services were disrupted for several hours, should have been a big and glaring alarm bell that rang our ears. It is no longer a secret that the tech giant Facebook, together with its counterparts Twitter and Google, have assumed a role of global dominance. They have reached every corner of the world and molded millions of people into addicted users who rely on their products. They wield unfathomable power. They can cancel the accounts of heads of state, delete entire countries from the face of the virtual globe, and manipulate people’s data however they please — all with zero accountability. But there are bright moments of resistance to this dangerous situation. One of those moments is the testimony given in Congress last week by the whistleblower Frances Haugen, who worked as a data scientist for Facebook. In her testimony, Haugen revealed how Facebook stole information from governments, how it misled the public about many topics, and how it uses a battery of lawyers to hide what it’s doing. She especially warned against the enormous harm caused to teenagers and children by Facebook and Instagram. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) also launched an attack on Facebook, saying that technology companies must face accountability for this disaster.

Facing off Facebook. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington accusing Facebook of “misusing their bigness and power”. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, Pool)

Unfortunately, too many governments, companies, and public officials rely on WhatsApp and Twitter to communicate with the public. Politicians have become obsessed with views, comments, retweets, and likes — as if those are the only metric for their success. In doing so, they neglected other solutions, including, for example, investing in the creation of special platforms, or reinventing old platforms, such as newspapers and satellite TV. There are many solutions out there, but the question is:

Are we ready to pursue them? Or do we need a slap in the face from Facebook to wake us up from our apathy? 

–Mishari Al-Dhaidi

A Woman Leading Tunisia’s Government

By Osama Ramadani 

An-Nahar, Lebanon, October 8

Finally, after a long wait, Tunisian President Kaïs Saïed appointed a prime minister: Najla Bouden Romdhane, the country’s first female prime minister. The appointment drew a lot of attention. Most political forces in Tunisia welcomed the appointment, including Saïed’s political opponents. According to one poll, no less than 67% of Tunisian respondents indicated that they were “satisfied” with the appointment of Bouden. The historical symbolism of the appointment is, in some ways, stronger than its practical impact on life in Tunisia. Even though the markets responded positively to the appointment, Bouden is far from the person who will be able to solve her country’s current financial crisis. Bouden’s appointment is a confirmation of the tradition of equal rights between men and women in Tunisia. It keeps up with the reformist legacy and progressive traditions established by Habib Bourguiba, the country’s first president. The appointment stirred up the popular imagination, as some compared Najla Bouden to Angela Merkel, the outgoing German chancellor. Despite the fact that the two have nothing to do with each other, the comparison reflected hope for better days for Tunisia. Positive attitudes towards the appointment were not surprising.

Times are Changing. Najla Bouden Romdhane is Tunisia’s first woman Prime Minister.

There has always been an initial willingness among the majority of Tunisians to accept the ascension of a woman to the presidency of the republic or the head of the government. However, the positions expressed by Tunisians were not without some reservations, especially among those active on social media platforms, which showed a misplaced interest in Bouden’s external appearance; an interest that is rarely shown when it comes to male politicians. Still, there were more serious reservations, including the criticism expressed by some female political figures around the fact that Bouden’s role was given limited power compared to the power held by previous prime ministers – implying that she wouldn’t, ultimately, be sharing power with Saïed. Therefore, the challenge at hand will be far from simple for the new Tunisian government. Bouden will become Tunisia’s 10th prime minister in a period of 10 years. She will need to introduce more stability into the political system. It will likely be difficult for the new prime minister to find time to devise and implement far-reaching reforms. Bouden will have little to no time to learn the ropes of her new job. She’ll have to deal with urgent economic issues and achieve the necessary understandings with the most prominent social party, the Labor Union, and with the most important donors abroad, including the International Monetary Fund. The road ahead will not be strewn with roses, but the obstacles that Bouden will encounter in carrying out her duties may also be factors that work to her advantage. While some see that the lack of previous ministerial or political responsibilities may constitute an obstacle to the effectiveness of Bouden’s work, others believe that this will make her much more popular and accepted by all political forces, regardless of affiliation. Today, her record is still a blank page on which she will draw whatever promises and statements she wants, even if logic calls her not to make promises that exceed her ability to implement. The final judgment will be based on the results that Bouden will achieve in terms of confronting the crises that she inherited from her predecessors, especially the economic and social crisis that previous governments failed to alleviate. 

– Osama Ramadani 

*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).

The Arab Voice – September 2021

Arab writers opine on the political landscape of the Middle East following the withdrawal of the US from Afghanistan and the Iran’s  unshakable bond with Syria.

America and Afghanistan: Two different options on the table

By Waheed Abd Al-Majeed

Al-Ittihad, UAE, September 9

The United States’ troubles in Afghanistan didn’t end with its withdrawal a few weeks ago. Despite the fact that the US military conducted an impressive evacuation operation (perhaps one of the largest ever conducted in such a short time frame), the strategic consequences of the withdrawal from Afghanistan haven’t changed. Simply put, the Americans left Afghanistan, but they cannot abandon their role in Central and East Asia.

That’s why US President Joe Biden’s main concern these days is determining the policy his administration will follow regarding the new situation in Kabul, and how to manage America’s relations with the new Taliban regime.

The direction in which this policy is headed is still unclear. The official US discourse revolves around waiting to see whether the Taliban keeps its word and adheres to its commitment to battle al-Qaeda. The US is also keeping tabs on the way in which the new Taliban government treats women and citizens wishing to leave Afghanistan, while avoiding retaliation against people who worked with the US and its allies in recent years.

However, the limited information available so far about the debate within Biden’s national security team suggests that there are two approaches, each taking a different path. The first approach revolves around containing the Taliban through a combination of sticks and carrots. The second and more hawkish approach states that the US must prepare for a full-fledged confrontation with the Taliban.

Taliban Takeover. Hours after the last American troops left Afghanistan, Taliban officials declare victory over the United States from the tarmac of Kabul’s international airport on August 31. Jim Huylebroek/The New York Times/Redux

This discrepancy in approaches isn’t surprising, given the confusion that has been evident in Afghanistan since the beginning of the American withdrawal and the arrival of Taliban forces to Kabul faster than the Americans had expected.

Each of these options has clear advantages and drawbacks. The option of confrontation may force Washington to get involved in Afghanistan in another way, which is counterproductive to Biden’s goal of redirecting America’s focus to other theatres. As for the containment option, it requires Washington to be patient, and it also forces it to disregard some of the conditions it has set for establishing positive relations with the Taliban government, as previously mentioned, because the new government’s commitment to all of them is not certain.

Therefore, it seems difficult at this point to conclude which of the two options the Biden administration will pursue.

It also means that several tactical decisions have been postponed in order to keep all options on the table.

For example, the US still has the Taliban on the list of terrorist organizations, allowing it to freeze the assets of Taliban leaders held in foreign banks. Meanwhile, the Taliban government desperately needs these funds to ensure its survival.

Perhaps experimenting with temporary measures will provide an opportunity to formulate a more nuanced US policy that combines some aspects of each of the above two approaches, with the hope that both sides will find a middle ground that suits their long-term goals.

Waheed Abd Al-Majeed

Taliban: from Caves into a full-fledged Emirate

By Suad Fahad Al-Mojil

Al-Masry Al-Youm, Egypt, September 8

Since the American withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Taliban has made strides and taken over the capital city of Kabul.

At the same time, the movement has sought to rebrand itself as a moderate organization that differs from the terrifying images the world has come to associate it with over the past 20 years.

But let’s make no mistake:

The Taliban committed massacres against Afghan civilians, burned fertile croplands and destroyed thousands of homes; banned all forms of arts and culture in the country; harassed women and schoolgirls; destroyed historical and cultural artifacts (recall the bombing of the famous Buddha statue in Bamiyan, which dates back more than 1,500 years).

However, there are those who seek to reconstruct and rewrite history in order to protect the Taliban.

One political pundit recently described the Taliban as a “legitimate” movement that simply sought to expel the American occupier from its lands. Now, with the withdrawal of US troops, the movement completed its mission and pushed the Afghan people one step closer toward freedom. In this pundit’s view, the Taliban will now foster democracy, governance, development and human rights in Afghanistan.

Dark Days Ahead. From the Etilaatroz newspaper — video journalist Nemat Naqdi, (left) and video editor Taqi Daryabi — undress to show wounds they sustained after Taliban fighters tortured and beat them while in custody. They had been arrested while reporting on a women’s rights protest in Kabul on September 8. (Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times/Shutterstock)

Similar opinions are being voiced around the world in an attempt to distinguish between Islamic State and the Taliban.

But the fact remains that both entities, ISIS and the Taliban, have been promoting flagrant hostility to Western democratic concepts such as equality between men and women, respect for minorities, pluralism, human rights and freedom of expression. They grant themselves the absolute right to apply penalties to those who violate their approach and ideology, whether by public execution, amputation or stoning to death.

The problem is that the West understands this reality very well but refuses to act upon it.

Whether we like it or not, the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan will not turn the Taliban into a peace-seeking movement that believes in liberal democracy and respects human rights.

The only change we’ll see is that the movement’s leaders, who once hid in caves, will now sit in the presidential palace and government buildings of the emirate they de facto established in Afghanistan.

Suad Fahad Al-Mojil

Separating Damascus from Teharan is Impossible

By Charles Jabbour

Al Joumhouria, Lebanon, September 9

Arab and international policy-makers placed their bets, on more than one occasion, on the hope that the Syrian regime could be separated from Iran. Immense efforts were exerted on the matter, but all attempts have failed, time and again.

In essence, the Syrian regime has two options to choose from: strengthening its ties with Iran or taking a step back from it. If it chooses the latter, it will collapse. Therefore, it has chosen the former.

The idea of decoupling Damascus from Tehran in order to weaken Iran stems from three key understandings. The first is that defeating Tehran in a knockout is unrealistic. The second is that hedging one’s bet on an internal revolution that would topple the mullah regime – despite the growing frustration within Iranian society – is dubious. The third is that the only way to entice Iran to change its behavior is to shift the regional balance of power, mainly by weakening Tehran’s grip on the Bashar Assad regime.

Meeting of Minds. There is so much more than less keeping this marriage warm and enduring. Iran’s religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, (right), meets Syrian leader Bashar Assad in Tehran, Iran on February 25, 2019. (Iranian Leader Press Office/Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Despite attempts to pull Syria away from Iran, the reality is that what links the two regimes to each other is too big and deep to be easily dismantled, especially since their relationship dates back to the Iranian Revolution. In other words, the alliance between Syria and Iran is based on common convictions and worldviews, not just narrow political interests.

Furthermore, the balance of power between the two sides of this relationship – the Assad regime on one hand and the mullah regime on the other – is asymmetrical. If the alliance is to break, it would break because the Iranians decided to put an end to it.

And without extensive Iranian military backing and financial support, the Assad regime would have long collapsed. Assad is thus personally indebted to the mullahs.

Accordingly, it’s completely wrong to continue betting on the separation of the Syrian regime from Iran. All of those who fantasize about this scenario coming to fruition are simply deluding themselves.

Charles Jabbour

*Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb.

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