The Arab Voice – October 2020

Arab writers from the Middle East opine on shifts in attitude in Lebanon towards Israel, the failure of a Palestine leadership and the sense in the Middle East of the US election feeling like a local election.


Has the trend of normalization reached Lebanon?

By Luay Rahibani

Enab Baladi, Syria, October 4

In recent weeks, the Lebanese government began changing its approach toward Israel in a subtle yet significant way. Instead of the usual rhetoric of the “Zionist entity” or the “Zionist enemy,” the Lebanese speaker of the Parliament, Nabih Berri, referred to his country’s neighbor in the south simply as “Israel” when he announced the government’s plan to launch direct negotiations with Israel that would demarcate the land and maritime borders between the two countries. In his press conference, Berri indicated that the negotiations would take place under the auspices of the United Nations, indicating that the Lebanese army would lead the negotiations, and that the US of America would work to create a positive atmosphere for the success of the talks.

Lebanese speaker of the Parliament, Nabih Berri, referred to his country’s neighbor in the south simply as “Israel” rather than “Zionist entity” or “Zionist enemy”. (REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File Photo)

On the Israeli side, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz affirmed that the talks with Lebanon would be mediated by the US, “to end the long dispute over the maritime borders between the two countries.”

This announcement can only be interpreted in a single manner: a clear concession by Beirut on its stance toward Tel Aviv. Lebanese writer and journalist Munir Rabee claims that what is happening is the result of Israeli and American pressure on Lebanon, amid the deteriorating economic crisis it is experiencing, to normalize its ties with Israel. He stressed that there is great pressure on the political forces in Lebanon to curb Iran’s influence over the country while opening up to the US and Israel.

Similarly, Nawar Shaaban, the notable military expert, argues that the French efforts led by President Macron to push for these talks will serve as a major blow to Hezbollah and will severely tarnish the movement’s reputation among the Lebanese public. Perhaps the most important impact of these talks is the promotion of the message that calm and stability in the region can be reached through negotiations rather than fighting. The demarcation of borders will inevitably lead to other agreements and security arrangements between the two countries, which means that Lebanon will de facto recognize Israel, its sovereignty, and its borders.

This view aligns with predictions of other experts that Syria, too, will consider normalizing its relations with Israel in an effort to gain international support and legitimacy.

Luay Rahibani


A failed Palwstinian leadership

By Abdulaziz al-Jarallah

Al-Jazirah, Saudi Arabia, October 9

Prince Bandar bin Sultan summarized the Palestinian case succinctly and clearly last week when he explained that while the Palestinian issue is important, its advocates are its biggest detractors. That’s because the Palestinian leadership always bets on the losing side.

This statement is an accurate diagnosis of the Palestinian situation. The Palestinians, as Bandar recounted, never miss an opportunity to make a mistake, including most recently, when they launched vehement attacks against one of their biggest supporters, the United Arab Emirates. Palestinian seminars, conferences, Friday sermons at mosques and media coverage all lashed out at the UAE and described its people in vulgar terms. This behavior is shameful. As usual, it was full of victimhood and defeat. Unfortunately, not a single Palestinian appearing on television managed to justify the harsh rhetoric directed against the people of the Gulf.

Palestinians on Temple Mount trample, set fire to picture of UAE leader in Jerusalem’s Old City, August 14, 2020. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

The Palestinian leadership has blackmailed the Arab world, and Gulf states in particular, for several decades. It has been ungrateful and unthankful for all of the support, both material and nonmaterial, it has received throughout the years.

Instead of recognizing their own failure, the Palestinians pointed fingers at the Gulf. Their behavior is immoral and embarrassing. If anything, it serves as proof that the decision to normalize ties with Israel and take a step back from the Palestinian issue was a right choice.

Abdulaziz al-Jarallah


When the US elections become local elections

ByAli Hamade

Al-Nahar, Lebanon, October 9

The United States has entered the last stretch of an electoral journey, beginning its mail-in voting process ahead of the official election date of November 3, when incumbent President Donald Trump faces his biggest challenge to date.

The coronavirus epidemic ravaging the US since the beginning of this year has caused great problems for Trump. The financial-economic crisis caused by the spread of the virus struck Trump’s momentum and allowed his Democratic rival, Joe Biden, to make remarkable progress, especially since Trump’s platform was based on remarkable outcomes during the first three years of his term.

Former vice president Joe Biden (Left) and US President Donald Trump (photo credit: WHITE HOUSE / WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

Still, his declining popularity doesn’t mean the elections will be devoid of surprises. All possibilities are on the table, and if history has taught us anything, it is that opinion polls don’t necessarily reflect the truth.

Perhaps what’s more interesting about these elections is that they are followed not only in the US but also in the Middle East. To the average person in the region, it seems as though people on our side of the world are monitoring the election outcome even more closely than the American people are themselves. Indeed, people throughout the Middle East, the Arab world, Iran, Turkey and Israel are treating the election as a local election.

The reason is pretty obvious. Despite China’s growing military power and Russia’s increased geostrategic involvement in world affairs under Vladimir Putin, the US remains the world’s strongest economic, military and political power. Even in the Middle East, despite setbacks caused by Russia’s involvement in the Syrian civil war, the US remains the most influential power.

Washington has proven time and again that when it makes a strategic choice in the region, it has the ability to turn the tables, regardless of where its opponents stand.

President George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq following the 9/11 attacks, for example, changed the face of the region for several decades. Similarly, the appeasing stance enacted by President Barack Obama toward Iran, culminating in the signing of the nuclear deal, opened the door to Tehran’s great expansion toward the Mediterranean coast and the Gulf.

Therefore, people in the Middle East are closely tracking the presidential race and waiting to see its outcome. After all, the identity of the next American president may very well determine their own fate.

Perhaps the only country in the region able to separate its own fate from the fate of the election is Israel, which exerts tremendous power over White House officials through its pro-Israel lobby in Washington. Israel has managed to overcome the policy shifts enacted by successive American administrations.

As for the rest of the countries in the region, including Turkey and Iran, they have to closely monitor the polls and assess their next moves based on their assumption of who will win.

Ali Hamade



*Translations 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

The Arab Voice – October 2020

Arab writers from the Middle East and beyond, opine on the shift towards peace of the Gulf states towards Israel, the increasing danger of an unchecked predatorial Turkey and Kuwait’s devasted education system due to Covid-19.


My Opinion on the Peace between the Emirates, Bahrain and Israel

By Muhammad Al-Sheikh 

Al-Jazirah, Saudi Arabia, September 24, 2020

Following the signing of the peace agreement between the UAE and Israel, Washington announced that the Kingdom of Bahrain will be the second Gulf state to establish ties with Israel. Such a decision is a sovereign decision, which pertains exclusively to the two countries involved in the agreement. No one else has a right to intervene. These two states are the only ones who assess their political strategies and come to form a decision. I’ve heard multiple claims of pious groups suggesting that this agreement is religiously impermissible. However, several notable political jurists, such as Sheikh Ibn Baz and Sheikh Ibn Uthaimin, may God have mercy on them, have issued religious verdicts permitting reconciliation with Israel, which cancels this claim from the ground up. In my opinion, these agreements only serve our interests.

The Emirati, Israeli and American flags attached to a plane of the Israeli company El Al, decorated with the word “peace” in Arabic, English and Hebrew, on its arrival at Abu Dhabi airport on Israel’s first ever commercial flight to the UAE, August 31 2020. © AFP – Karim Sahib.

They bring to the fore issues that the Arabs, in general, and the Palestinians, in particular, have failed to solve through wars. However, remarkable progress has been made through peaceful negotiations. Anyone who reads the history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict from 1948 until now, a lifetime extending to 72 years, will find that the Palestinian issue has been experiencing a continuous deterioration, slowly becoming relegated to the lower rungs of the Arab world’s political agenda, while Israel continues to annex more land. While the partition plan originally allocated approximately 49% of the land for the Palestinians and 51% for the Israelis, Israel has by now seized nearly 80% of the Palestinian geography. In other words, the wars that took place between the Israelis and the Arabs were all won by Israel, while Egypt and Jordan, as well as the Palestinians themselves, were only able to obtain lands through direct peace talks. The truth is that Israel is no longer the Gulf’s biggest enemy, as was the case before the Iranian Revolution of 1979. Since the rise of the mullah regime in Tehran and the rise of Erdogan’s government in Turkey, the Arab world became subjected to continuous efforts on behalf of both of these states to export their revolutions and restore their long-gone empires. Both of these countries are far more dangerous to us than Israel ever will be.

Israeli Ministry of Foreign AffairsIsraeli Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz with his Bahraini counterpart Al Khalifa

The other matter that is often ignored is that Gulf countries are increasingly diversifying their economies and turning away from their reliance on oil. Israel is a great partner to collaborate with on technology, science, finance and healthcare. It is one of the most superior countries in innovation and peaceful cooperation, and it will help benefit our collective development and modernization.

– Muhammad Al-Sheikh 



How Long Will We Keep Silent About Turkey?

By Dr. Abdullah Al-Madani

Al-Bayan, UAE, August 27, 2020

In 2014, my Saudi colleague Jasser Al-Jasser wrote an opinion piece calling on his government to impose a ban on all travel between Saudi Arabia and Turkey. In his piece, he implored other Gulf states to do the same, given Turkey’s disinterest in stopping the flow of fighters into the hands of Islamic State and Al-Nusra in Syria.

Al-Jasser’s plea was not answered. However, today, the countries of the Gulf can no longer afford to sit idly by as Turkey continues to threaten the security and stability of our entire region. Ankara, led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, is an unabashed supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood and is clear about its aspiration to lead the entire Muslim world by restoring the Ottoman caliphate.

More diplomatically isolated than ever in Arab world, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (left) is welcomed by Khalid bin Mohammad al-Attiyah (right), the Qatari deputy prime minister and minister of state for defense affairs, at the airport in Doha, Qatar. (Getty Images)

Erdogan’s Turkey is no longer a friendly country with good intentions toward us. The opposite is true: Turkey has become one of the most malicious nations in the world, deploying mercenaries all over the region and destabilizing the security and stability of distant countries in an effort to lock in political and financial gains. In his most recent inflammatory speech against Egypt, Erdogan described President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi as a “tyrant”. Last year, Ankara directly undermined the legitimacy of the Egyptian government by hosting and embracing a group of Egyptian “revolutionaries” who sought to carry out a coup in their country.

Furthermore, Ankara has been a steady source of support to the Hamdeen regime in Doha, led by the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, who has led a boycott of four Arab countries. Finally, we must not forget the close cooperation between Erdogan’s Brotherhood regime and the Iranian mullahs, whose efforts to undermine the stability of Gulf Cooperation Council states are widely known. Given these repeated attacks and Turkey’s hostile stance toward Arab people, how can we ever trust Ankara? Given Erdogan’s vulgar aggression against Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Libya, how can we stay silent?
Dr. Abdullah Al-Madani



The Academic Year of Deception

Modhi Abdul Aziz Al-Hamoud

Al-Qabad, Kuwait, September 25, 2020

By virtue of both age and circumstance, I happen to have experienced two bitter crises that had monumental impacts on our country’s education system. The first was the brutal Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, which led to the shutdown of schools for an entire academic year. Following liberation, the educational authorities were forced to make a tough decision that many of us recall to this very day, by imposing the “year of integration”, in which the educational curriculum of each grade was merged to cover two years’ worth of teaching.

Kuwait’s academic year has officially ended with all students deemed to have passed. (Photo for illustrative purpose only).

Today, over three decades later, another crisis is threatening our educational system. This time, it’s the coronavirus, which has disrupted education in all countries of the world. While this most recent crisis is far from unique to Kuwait, our country does stand out in the disproportional effect of the virus on our children’s education. While many other states implemented remote learning solutions that enabled students to maintain a degree of normalcy in everyday life, the Kuwaiti Ministry of Education decided to simply send our students home.

The solution, according to the ministry, was simply to bump students up a grade without achieving any of the learning requirements for the year. Ironically, no one at the ministry is owning this policy outright. Last week, it published the so-called “pass rates” for the most recent high school matriculation examinations. The figure stood at 99.7%. Now let’s be clear: Not even the most advanced nations and the most endowed educational systems in the world, in places like Finland and Singapore, yield this kind of completion rate.

Kuwait City.

Therefore, it is surely impossible that Kuwaiti high-schoolers did. Unfortunately, the problem doesn’t end in high school. Given these fabricated rates, our university systems will be the next to suffer. With limited seats available to students, how will our higher education institutions know which students to admit? How will they make use of their limited governmental budgets to accommodate larger classes of students?

The absorption of all high school graduates into our few universities will create a crisis of its own. Yes, the decision pleased the students and their proud families. It also allowed our politicians to remove great pressure from their own shoulders. But it inevitably led us into an educational crisis that no one knows how to get out of. The absence of academic excellence, let alone basic academic competence, should be a concern to us all.

–Modhi Abdul Aziz Al-Hamoud




*Translations 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

The Arab Voice – August 2020

In this week’s media roundup of the Arab world, Arab writers from Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, opine on the story dominating international news – The Blast in Beirut.

 

Experience is the Teacher of fools

By Rafiq Khoury

Nida Al-Watan, Lebanon, August 8

Experience is the teacher of fools,” says the oft-cited American proverb. That is, foolish people only learn from personal experience rather than witnessing others’ mistakes. Lebanon certainly fits this bill. Our country is afflicted not only by the terrible explosion that ravaged Beirut last week, but also – and perhaps more importantly – by the corrupt, fraudulent, and rotten political system governing us. Neither one of these catastrophes will be solved in isolation; they must be addressed together.

Rebuilding Beirut and saving the Lebanese economy from collapse will have to come hand in hand with freeing up our country from corruption in our political, financial and defense establishments. This is the exact message that French, American and even Arab allies have sent to Lebanon over the past week. It is also the message made by French President Emmanuel Macron during his historic visit to Beirut. Macron laid out a clear road map: Aid will flow to Lebanon if – and only if – the country rids itself of corruption and rebuilds its political system.

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Warm Embrace. When French President Emmanuel Macron was visiting the sites of the devastation following the explosion in Beirut, he was approached by a woman who said, “You are sitting with warlords, they have been manipulating us for the past years.” Revealing a shift in mindset, Macron replied “I’m NOT here to help them, I’m here to help you,” before entering into a long, silent embrace.

Macron is willing to put this to the test. He is scheduled to visit Beirut again in a few short weeks, on September 1, for the 100th anniversary of General Gouraud’s proclamation of the establishment of the State of Greater Lebanon, the predecessor of modern Lebanon. Unfortunately, Lebanon’s authorities still have not internalized Macron’s message. If anything, Lebanese politicians seem to follow the opposite approach of continuing with their lies and deceit in order to evade accountability. They understand that fighting corruption means uncovering the structure of Lebanon’s entire political system and, with that, an end to their robbery of public and private money, superiority over the law and evasion of responsibility. Political reforms mean an end to their deep-seated habits.

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Root of the Problem. Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab submits his resignation to President Michel Aoun and accuses in his resignation speech, the political class of trying to shift blame for the country’s ongoing economic crisis and corruption onto his cabinet instead of the deep-seated corruption “rooted in every part of the state.” Credit. Aziz Taher/Reuter

Thankfully, Macron’s visit reminded us amid complete despair that Lebanon can still resuscitate its relationship with the Arab and international community. But to do so, we must defend the Lebanon we long for, not the Lebanon we live in. Lebanon must free itself of Hezbollah’s grip, which puts us at a continuous risk of war with Israel. Lebanon must distance itself from Iran instead of trying to mimic Tehran’s political, religious and social structures.

And finally, Lebanon must install a new government that is accountable to the public. Let us hope that we can finally learn from our mistakes instead of waiting for another disaster to happen.

Rafiq Khoury

 

The Economy Second, Hezbollah First
By Khalid Bin Hamad

 Al-Jazirah, Saudi Arabia, August 8

Officials in Lebanon have already begun discussing the cost of rehabilitating Beirut from the terrible explosion in its port. Indeed, the governor of Beirut has indicated that the price tag will range somewhere from $3 billion to $5 billion before all damages are even counted. Similarly, the Lebanese prime minister, Hassan Diab, has called on all of those who “love Lebanon” to hurry up and support its economy, which basically was on the brink of collapse even before this disaster.

Sadly, those who speak of economic support and financial aid forget that there is something far more important: political transparency. As dozens of innocent Lebanese civilians are struggling to maintain their daily lives in a destroyed city, it is our duty, as Lebanon’s allies, to ensure that the political conditions that led to this disaster do not repeat themselves. What will happen after we support the Lebanese economy? Will the political deadlock change?

Will corruption disappear?

I am talking about aid that extends beyond immediate medical and food supplies, for which the Lebanese people are desperate for right now. Who will ensure that the dollars we funnel into Lebanon at a later stage will actually make their way to the Lebanese people?

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Message from the People. Hezbollah members carry mock missile during procession in south Lebanon, 2009. Following the death and devastation of the Beirut port explosion, there are increasing calls that if “the Lebanese want one government, one military and one law for everyone, they must remove Hezbollah from their political system.” (photo credit: ALI HASHISHO/REUTERS)

The president of the republic, the Prime Minister, the Speaker of Parliament, ministers, representatives and all other elected Lebanese officials must interact with the public in an honest and transparent way. They must answer the tough questions about what led to this horrific explosion that killed dozens and injured thousands. Most importantly, Beirut will never be rebuilt as long as it remains imprisoned and bound by the decisions issued by Hezbollah based on marching orders coming from Tehran.
If the Lebanese want one government, one military and one law for everyone, they must remove Hezbollah from their political system. We in the Arab world empathize with the people of Lebanon. We wish them well and we hope that they will overcome the effects of this disaster. This can only happen if they stand up against corruption and against the conspirators who undermined their country from within.

Those whose ultimate loyalty is to Iran cannot claim to care about the Lebanese nation. The entire world now stands in solidarity with Lebanon and understands the country’s urgent need for support. Our ultimate goal should be to direct as much humanitarian aid to the country as we possibly can. But we should hold off on writing checks.

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Time to Change. Despite moved by the devastation in Beirut after the port blast, foreign governments are wary about writing blank checks to a government perceived by its own people to be deeply corrupt and taking “its marching orders from Tehran.” (Photo: AFP)

Any aid to the Lebanese economy must be conditional upon the removal of Hezbollah from the government, the supervision over where funds are going and the implementation of political reforms that Lebanon has already committed itself to. Any armed group outside the Lebanese military must be disbanded while the political structure in Lebanon must be redesigned from the foundations up.

Khalid Bin Hamad

 

The Beirut Explosion – An Anti-Corruption Domino Effect

By Tariq Tarshishi

Al-Joumhouria, Lebanon, August 8

The investigation into what exactly occurred at the port of Beirut last week might be ongoing, but one thing has been clear from the very outset: The cause for the blast that shook Beirut is corruption. Like other catastrophes that struck our country in the past, the Beirut explosion is first and foremost a political disaster created by our leaders. Lebanon’s corrupt political system plundered our country’s wealth and deprived our people of their ability to live a dignified life.

Corruption is what kept 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate in the middle of a bustling port that serves as the beating heart of our country’s economy. Corruption is also what led to the death of more than 150 innocent people whose only sin was to be in the wrong place at the wrong time in their country’s capital city.

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“Throw out the Trash”. Disgusted with their politicians, proud Lebanese women wave their national flag and hold placards as they take part in a protest in Beirut against systemic corruption in Lebanon’s political system. (AFP file photo)

This crime will not go by uninvestigated, and the culprits will not evade judgment. We will require our elected officials to come out to the public and speak. Simply resigning from their positions will not suffice, since it means evading responsibility and deflecting attention onto someone else. And as soon as we get the answers we want, we will turn to parliamentary elections.

In the case of Lebanon, these elections should have happened much sooner. The Beirut disaster will serve as a force majeure that will make our politicians reveal their secret practices and come clean about what they may or may not have done. Undoubtedly, one of our government’s greatest calamities has been its continuous inability to initiate the reforms requested by the international community and by international financial institutions that have offered to save Lebanon from collapse. This inability to act and accept the help of others during dire times raises suspicion about the motivations of our elected officials.

Lebanese Government Steps Down After Blast Reignites Protests
Devastation and Despair. People waving Lebanese flags at a protest near the Beirut port following the explosion leave the people with new hopes for political change but daunted by enormous challenges. The question is “What’s Next?” NurPhoto/NurPhoto via Getty Images

We all know that reluctance to cooperate with international donors has stemmed primarily from the fear of revealing our nation’s persistent corruption and cronyism. Now that all screens have been lifted and all hurdles have been removed, our politicians have nowhere to hide. They will have to come clean and be held accountable.

The disastrous explosion in Beirut symbolizes the collapse of the cornerstone of the Lebanese brick wall. With its fall, other stones will soon drop as well. And once momentum is gained, nothing will stop the truth from coming to light. The disaster has triggered an irreversible and unstoppable domino effect that will unveil the full extent of corruption in Lebanon.

Tariq Tarshishi

 

*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

 

The Arab Voice – August 2020

Arab writers from the Middle East and beyond, opine on a rapidly declining Lebanon losing the interest and sympathy of the world and on the behaviour and impact of two presidents – Donald Trump and Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

 

The World No Longer Trusts Lebanon

By  Farouk Youssef

Al-Arab, London, July 17

The Lebanese people look back at their bloody civil war and think of it as a walk in the park compared to the dark ages they are currently experiencing under Hezbollah’s rule. Hezbollah transformed Lebanon into a booby-trapped country that can be detonated on command in case its people refuse to comply with the group’s dictates.

The inconvenient truth is that Lebanon has lost the world’s empathy. What a tragic ending for a country that was once a tourism hotspot, a country with unparalleled natural beauty, a country of hardworking, law-abiding citizens who demonstrated nothing but tolerance and respect for each other. Even under the sectarian system and during the many years of heightened sectarian tensions, the Lebanese people managed to lead normal lives and conduct their affairs insulated from all the political turmoil. They did not have to sacrifice their civic rights. To some extent, they felt the possibility of “taming” the sectarian system and preventing it from separating them from the rest of the world. They hoped to transform that system into a distant memory. They hoped to turn sectarianism into diversity and bring an end to the discrimination in their society.

But what happened, unfortunately, is that Hezbollah took advantage of the sectarian system and made it a mantle for its malicious operations. It defrauded the Lebanese people in order to divide and conquer them. It resorted to scare tactics and intimidation to ensure a majority in parliament. It created a system of political patronage wherein all those not loyal to the movement are weakened and ousted.

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Anti-government protesters carry Lebanese flags and burn tires as they block the main highway in the north of Beirut during a protest over deteriorating living conditions. EPA

Sadly, all of this has been only a prelude to declaring hegemony over the Lebanese state so that even the Christian president of the republic became the candidate of Hezbollah alongside the Sunni prime minister, who was also chosen by Hezbollah. Given Hezbollah’s ultimate loyalty to the Islamic Republic of Iran and its supreme leader, its takeover of Lebanese politics means that Lebanon has become nothing more than a subsidiary of Iran.

The Lebanese situation has become confusing to the world in terms of how to look at it and deal with its crisis.

Is Lebanon simply a victim of its sectarian system?

Or is it a malicious actor implementing Iran’s agenda in the region? Lebanon has lost the flexibility to be a country that embraces its diversity and at the same time has lost its ability to convince the world that it is a democratic country open for global and regional dialogue.

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The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has projected that Lebanon’s economy will shrink 12% in 2020 amid the country’s worst economic and financial crisis in decades.

This is the primary reason for the world’s indifference to Lebanon’s current political and financial crises. The world no longer trusts Lebanon. Lebanon and Hezbollah have become one and the same. Thus, it can no longer claim to be a victim and beg for the mercy of world powers.

Lebanon, the country whose beauty for years managed to conceal the ugliness of Hezbollah, will have to face its ultimate dark fate alone.
– Farouk Youssef

 

 

Has The US Changed Or Just Its President?

By Muhammad Al-Sammak

Al-Etihad, UAE, July 17

Europe emerged from World War II in a deplorable state. The winter of 1947 was a tragedy unlike any other witnessed before. The continent was totally destroyed, and famine was widespread. The European economies collapsed. In France, inflation reached 49%. In Italy, it exceeded 62%. In Germany, the Allies did not leave a single city intact. Almost every major factory around the country was destroyed.

Across the ocean, the US was concerned with returning its soldiers from the battlefield in an effort to begin healing the wounds of those families that lost loved ones in the war. However, geopolitical developments soon imposed other priorities. Chief among them was rebuilding and rehabilitating Europe in an effort to curb the westward Communist advance coming from the Soviet Union.

Thus the famous Marshall Plan, named after the US secretary of state at the time, was born. Under the plan, the US provided $14.3 billion in direct aid to rebuild European economies between 1948 and 1952. The value of this amount in 2018 dollars is some $130 billion. The Soviet Union interpreted Marshall’s plan as an attempt to resurrect Germany. That is why Joseph Stalin hastened the acceleration of the Soviet takeover of Eastern Europe, including the eastern part of Germany.

The US responded with the creation of NATO. The goal of this alliance was to push the Soviet Union back east, to maintain an American presence on the continent and to ensure a continuation of the German defeat. This helped rebuild a new Europe, which evolved into today’s European Union.

Compare this experience with what we are witnessing today. Unlike the winter of 1947, US President Donald Trump, in the winter of 2017, announced a new policy based on the principle of “America First.” Under this principle, to which Trump adheres despite European and American opposition, the US has been seeking to reduce its financial commitments to NATO while imposing unprecedented taxes on European exports to America (for example, steel).

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The two presidents sowing seeds of mistrust among their allies, Trump and Erdogan (centre) at an earlier NATO gathering that descended into acrimony following Trump criticizing US allies.

Today, Trump is trying to reduce his country’s obligations to others while turning a blind eye to what is happening in Europe. But unlike his predecessors who saw the Soviet incursion into Czechoslovakia as a reason for grave concern, Trump views the Russian takeover of Crimea as a non-issue. He refuses to be drawn into any form of confrontation with the Russian Federation because that would come at the expense of America First.

In the winter of 1947, when the US approved the Marshall Plan, President Harry Truman was surrounded by legendary figures like George Marshall, George Kennan, Will Clayton and Adlai Stevenson, who were not only great advisers but also shrewd thinkers. They were academics, policymakers and seasoned diplomats.

Conversely, today’s White House is filled with staffers who have an insanely limited experience in international affairs. In order to fulfill his commitment to the Marshall Plan to restore life to Europe after the war, Truman had to pursue a policy of economic openness. As for Trump, his commitment to America First has led him to pursue a policy of isolation and seclusion, even with his closest neighbours, Mexico and Canada.

Hence, the question is: Has the US changed or is it only the president?

Muhammad Al-Sammak

 

 

The Sultan Who Trades In Religion

By Khalid Tashkndi

Al-Okaz, Saudi Arabia, July 11

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan tweeted last week that converting the Hagia Sophia Museum into a mosque is a prelude to the liberation of al-Aqsa Mosque. However, Erdogan’s tweet in Arabic dramatically differed from the one he posted in English, in which he explained that a section of the museum would be converted into a mosque, where anyone, including non-Muslim foreigners, would be welcomed. He then added: “With its new status, Hagia Sophia, the shared heritage of humanity, will continue to embrace everyone in a much more sincere and original way.”

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People, some wearing face masks, pray outside the Hagia Sophia museum in Istanbul on July 10, 2020 as they gather to celebrate after a top Turkish court revoked the sixth-century Hagia Sophia’s status as a museum, clearing the way for it to be turned back into a mosque. (AFP)

The stark difference between the contents of the two tweets is yet another reminder of Erdogan’s shameful deceit and cheap attempt to manipulate the emotions of millions of Muslims around the world. The goal of the first tweet was to draw an unsubstantiated link between Hagia Sophia and Al-Aqsa Mosque and position Turkey as the supposed “liberator” of both. The goal of the second tweet was to emphasize that the site would be open to all non-Muslims.

This paradoxical stance is nothing more than a desperate effort on behalf of Erdogan to save his continually declining popularity both at home and abroad.

To do so, he resorts to the mockery of Islam.

Khalid Tashkndi

 

 

 

*Translations 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

 

 

The Arab Voice – July 2020

Arab writers from the Middle East and beyond opine on the impact of Bolton’s ‘bombshell’ book on the Trump presidency, what history can teach about sanction on Iran and the tragic decline of Lebanon.

 

 

Bolton’s Memoir and the Trump Administration

By Suleiman Judeh

Al-Masry Al-Youm, Egypt, July 4

 The battle between US President Donald Trump and his former national security adviser, John Bolton, is truly fascinating. Not merely because it is telling of the chaos in the current US administration, but also because of the mutual accusations exchanged between the two men, with Trump describing Bolton as a liar and Bolton describing Trump as incompetent to govern.

The former adviser spent months working next to Trump at the White House, fulfilling the same role played by notable individuals like Henry Kissinger, McGeorge Bundy and Condoleezza Rice. When Bolton left, he sat down to reflect on his experiences in the Oval Office and began writing a memoir. This memoir was finally released last week. But the American president put up a fight against Bolton’s book and worked tirelessly to prevent its publication. The formal reasoning was that the book includes confidential material pertaining to US national security. However, the real reason for Trump’s fierce opposition was twofold.

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First, he feared that Bolton’s book would have a negative impact on his campaign for the upcoming presidential elections, as it would paint the Trump administration in a negative light.

Second, Trump recognized that the book would immediately become a national bestseller that would bring extensive publicity and financial benefit to Bolton. This second point is particularly striking since it is proof that, despite the widespread declaration that the print media and publishing industries are dead, people still have interest in hard-copy books.

The buzz surrounding the release of Bolton’s book is real. It cannot be easily replicated in the digital realm, using tweets and Facebook posts. People still want to learn more about the stories happening at the highest levels of power, behind closed doors, and they turn to books to do so.

Both Trump and Bolton recognize the latent power held by books in setting political narratives and shaping history. And Trump is on the losing end of this narrative.

Suleiman Judeh

 

 

What History can Teach us about Sanctions on Iran

By Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed

Asharq Al-Awsat, London, July 5

The Iranian regime is unlikely to collapse until the American elections take place. It is also unlikely that the mullahs will retreat from their aggressive behaviour both internally and externally. But after November 3, when the presidential election takes place in the US, all possibilities are open.

Things could change dramatically, depending on who is sitting in the White House. However, before jumping into predictions about the future of the political war between Washington and Tehran, it might be best, perhaps, to turn to relevant examples from the past.

The sanctions under which Saddam Hussein’s regime existed in Iraq between 1990 to the US invasion in 2003 were very similar in nature to the harsh sanctions regime that exists against Iran today. The lesson from Saddam Hussein is that sanctions did not succeed in changing his behaviour or policies. Such authoritarian regimes do not care about the agony of their citizens.

Moreover, these regimes use sanctions to promote their own propaganda. For example, Saddam manipulated the United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to believe that over half a million Iraqi children had died as a result of the sanctions against him. However, later research showed that these figures were fabricated by the regime. It also became apparent that the ruling circle itself was not affected, which partly convinced Washington of the need to invade and topple the regime by force after failing to change its policies.

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Does this mean that the severe economic sanctions that apply to Iran today are useless? Yes and no. On one hand, sanctions will neither affect the regime directly, nor will they change the mullahs’ key political positions. However, they are especially useful in weakening the regime’s internal grip. This has been confirmed by the repeated protests we have seen in Tehran and other cities.

Furthermore, sanctions have curtailed Iran’s foreign military activity in places like Syria and Lebanon, and even in Iraq and Yemen. The regime spent billions of dollars to manage its massive military activities outside its borders, including the financing of tens of thousands of militia fighters. The financial collapse of Hezbollah, Iran’s largest foreign militia, is a direct result of the US sanctions. The Iranian government’s income has fallen by more than 70%, and it is severely struggling to pay the salaries of teachers, doctors and government staff.

Granted, this does not mean that the supreme leader will simply step down. He is likely to wait and see what happens in the election. Also, we do not know how a Democratic president like Joe Biden will approach the question of sanctions. Will he lift them? I doubt it, because after signing the comprehensive agreement, Iran proved that it had become more dangerous to US interests and American allies in the region.

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The world has Iran over a barrel!

Worse, if Trump is reelected, the mullahs will face a more dangerous and hawkish administration. Then they will be forced to choose between the fate of Saddam Hussein or cooperation with the West in return for a new nuclear agreement in which they will refrain from their foreign military activities and pledge to limit their nuclear activities.

Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed

 

 

Dear Ali, It Is The Government That Killed You

By Bechara Charbel

Nida Al-Watan, Lebanon, July 5

Last week, a tragic event took place in the heart of Beirut when an innocent, law-abiding Lebanese citizen, Muhammad Ali Al-Haq, shot and killed himself near a café on Hamra Street. Al-Haq could not bear the difficult economic conditions that Lebanon is going through after returning from work in the Gulf, so, as a desperate, last resort, he decided to put an end to his life on a busy street in broad daylight.

You, Ali, are a hero!

You died while embracing the Lebanese flag. In your tragic death, you carried out the most peaceful protest you possibly could: You didn’t hurl stones at buildings, you didn’t set tires on fire in the street, you didn’t loot or steal. You preferred not to engage in violence against those who starved your family and deprived you of your basic humanity. Despite having every right to lash out at the authorities, their guardians and militias, you chose to die in peace, like a martyr.

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Lebanese Ali al-Haq could not bear the difficult economic and living conditions and decided to put an end to his life before the eyes of passers-by in broad daylight in a busy street in Beirut.

Before your death, we didn’t know you, Ali. But with your majestic passing, you became a symbol of the revolution against a corrupt system that has occupied our country and transformed its citizens into second-class subjects. Let’s not be mistaken, Ali: You did not kill yourself! The system that has been looting us for over 30 years murdered you. The greed of our disgusting leaders killed you. The political corruption in our country killed you. The lack of care among our authorities killed you.

Ali, I hope you rest in peace. Your tragic suicide is part of a ‘blood tax’ that our people have paid throughout history against transgressors and foreign occupiers that attempted to destroy us. Your act of defiance will never be forgotten. Your ultimate sacrifice won’t be overlooked. And your death won’t be in vain. You are the wake-up call to us all.

Bechara Charbel

 

 

*Translations 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

 

The Arab Voice – June 2020

Arab writers from the Middle East and beyond,  weigh in on the economic crisis facing countries in the region and the proposed plan of Israeli annexation

 

Now Is Not The Time For Chants About Jerusalem!

By Kheir Allah Kheir Allah

Al-Arab, London, May 29

Despite the chants coming from senior members of Hezbollah, who vow that we will all soon be praying in Jerusalem, there is only one truth in the region, at least in the foreseeable future: Israel was, and still is, the sovereign in Jerusalem. And it is not going to vanish overnight. There is, unfortunately, nothing other than this reality. Announcing that we will pray in al-Aqsa will not change the truth.

Before Hassan Nasrallah and his aides prepare to pray in Jerusalem, it is necessary to look at some figures related to Syria and Lebanon.

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Breaking The Bank. Anti-government protesters smash a window of a Lebanese bank during protests against the deepening financial crisis at Hamra trade street, in Beirut, Lebanon, January 14, 2020. (Hussein Malla/AP)

Today, 86% of Syrians live below the poverty line, while Iran considers how to recover the estimated $30 billion it spent in the country to protect the Bashar Assad regime. Syria needs at least $500b. to rebuild itself.

Who exactly is going to come to Syria’s help, given the current financial crisis caused by the coronavirus epidemic and the drop in the price of oil? Frankly, no one.

In parallel to the figures coming out of Syria, we’re also witnessing alarming figures in Lebanon. The Lebanese banking sector is quite literally on the verge of collapse, and the country’s education system is about to be obliterated. People who want to pray in Jerusalem forget that hunger and poverty threaten a million Lebanese citizens.

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Crumbling Buildings To Crumbling Currency. A Syrian man holds up a 2,000-pound banknote, featuring President Bashar Assad, in front of damaged buildings, in Duma, Syria. (Mohammed Badra / EPA)

This is what the regional director of the World Food Program and his representative in Lebanon, Abdullah al-Wardat, warned of. Wardat said that a million Lebanese are at risk of falling below the food poverty line this year, noting that the program is preparing to provide emergency food assistance to support some 50,000 Lebanese families exposed to the repercussions of the current economic crises.

Yes, before praying in Jerusalem, there is hunger, there is suffering, there is death, and there is a need for real political leadership that speaks truth to its people. Syria and Lebanon are in shambles. Nevertheless, there are those who want to pray in Jerusalem.

This does not mean, of course, that the Israeli occupation of the holy city can be justified. It also does not mean that we should condone Israel’s desire to perpetuate its occupation of Jerusalem and the West Bank. But before delivering promises to pray in Jerusalem, it might be wiser to think of ways to avoid a disaster in Lebanon and Syria. The numbers don’t lie. They show the raw and harsh truth unfolding around us. People must confront these figures before making empty promises.

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State Of Syria. A Syrian laments the steep drop in his country’s currency at a festival in Damascus. (Louai Beshara/AFP/Getty Images)

Turning Israel into a ploy or a distraction undermines the magnitude of both our problems at home, as well as the plight of the Palestinian people.

Kheir Allah Kheir Allah

(Translated from Arabic into English by Asaf Zilberfarb)

 

PA Counter-proposal to US Peace Plan Calls for Demilitarized State

 By Mohammad Al-Kassim

The Media Line, 09 June 2020

PM Shtayyeh: Israel must ‘face the consequences’ over Netanyahu’s planned annexations in West Bank.

The Palestinian Authority will declare an independent, demilitarized state in the entire West Bank and Gaza Strip, with parts of Jerusalem as its capital, if Israel goes forward with plans to annex parts of the West Bank, PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said on Tuesday.

This would mean the transition from “a temporary authority” to “the imposition of a state on the ground, and Palestine will be a state along the pre-1967 borders and its capital will be East Jerusalem,” he told members of the foreign press in Ramallah.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu says annexation could start as early as July 1. If so, Shtayyeh said the PA would make a “constitutional announcement” and establish a “constituent assembly,” saying that Israel would have to face the consequences.

Annexation “would kill any possibility of peace with Israel,” he explained, and erode “the Palestinian, regional and international consensus” on a two-state solution. Israel, he warned, must now “feel the heat of international pressure.”

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Anxiety Over Annexation. Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh addresses the issue of annexation on Palestine TV, June 8, 2020 (Screenshot of Palestine TV)

He said the PA had sent a plan for Palestinian statehood to the Middle East Quartet – the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and Russia − in response to the Trump Administration’s own peace plan, which sees as much as 30% of the West Bank being annexed by Israel.

“We submitted a counter-proposal to the Quartet a few days ago,” Shtayyeh said.

The PA plan provides for the creation of a “sovereign Palestinian state, independent and demilitarized,” with “minor modifications of borders where necessary,” he noted.

Responding to a question from The Media Line, the PA prime minister insisted that the EU’s backing for the Palestinians was solid.

“We know the decision-making process in Europe is complicated. European decision-making is built on consensus. And we know that there are one or two countries in Europe who are not in line with others,” he stated.

“But I want to assure you,” he continued, “that it’s the first time that European decision-makers are actually debating two things: One is sanctions on Israel and freezing… agreements, as well as cancelling some research programs…. The second thing being discussed in Europe is recognizing Palestine. These measures are important to us because at the end of the day, we have to break the status quo. For us, this is not lip service.”

Shtayyeh made clear that the PA was not going anywhere.

“On the issue of dissolving the Palestinian Authority, look, let’s not fool ourselves: The PA is not a gift from anybody. The PA came into being because of the sacrifices of the Palestinian people since 1965 [when the PLO began its militancy campaign]. So we are not waiting for somebody to give us less or more. It’s not a gift. And you don’t give a gift back,” he said.

He called the PA a “national interest” for Palestinians.

“For us, the issue is not to dissolve the PA, throw away the keys and go home,” he explained. “But if Israel wants to destroy the Authority with the measures it is taking, we know how to resist it. And that is why I’m saying that the status quo cannot be maintained.”

Shtayyeh called Israeli annexation an “existential threat” for the Palestinians.

“It’s a serious violation of signed agreements between us and Israel, a total breach of international law. It’s a threat to regional security, in particular to Jordan, and it is part of the systematic destruction of a future Palestinian state,” he said.

“Frankly, this peace process has a reached a serious impasse,” he continued, “and I think the situation is irreversible.”

Shtayyeh told a packed hall of reporters from around the world that Israel had already implemented small steps on the ground in the Jordan Valley in preparation for annexation.

“There are a number of measures that Israel started to take [in order] to implement its annexation plan,” he stated.

“First, they started sending utility bills to the people and villages in the Jordan Valley – electricity and water… and the sign that usually says ‘Beyond this point is Palestinian Authority domain’ has been removed,” he said.

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Is This Water Under The Bridge? The previous coordinator of government activities in the territories (COGAT) Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai (left) and the Palestinian Authority’s Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh sign an agreement to revitalize the Israeli-Palestinian Joint Water Committee in 2017. (Courtesy COGAT)

On Monday, a demonstration by about 500 people took place in downtown Ramallah against Israel’s annexation plans.

“The anger is there, the dissatisfaction is there, the frustration is there, and all that is a recipe for more problems,” Shtayyeh said.

He reaffirmed the PA’s position against Washington’s involvement in the peace process.

“The whole world has been waiting for President [Donald] Trump to come up with an initiative,” the prime minister said. “He came up with a proposal that has been totally rejected by the Palestinians, the Arabs, the Europeans [and] the rest of the world. Even Israel objects to certain elements.”

Shtayyeh believes a new approach to peace is necessary.

“There has to be a serious paradigm shift, from bilateralism to multilateralism,” he stated. “We want a serious break of the monopoly of Washington over the process. Washington cannot be an honest broker. You need a different broker. An international mechanism.”

Israel would not have moved in the direction of annexation without US approval, he added.

“Unfortunately, annexation has been based on maps provided by the Trump Administration,” he said, “so the maps provide some sort of [American] legitimacy to the Israelis.”

Mohammad Al-Kassim

(Translated from Arabic into English by Asaf Zilberfarb)

 

Barack Obama And The Middle East Revolutions

By Hassan Al-Mustafa

Al-Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, May 26

I was asked a lot about the reason for which former US president Barack Obama was blind in his support for the Arab revolutions, a characteristic of his presidency that almost destroyed his country’s relations with the Arab world.

The short answer to this question is that in Obama’s worldview, spreading freedom and democracy is paramount to anything else. Indeed, Obama’s worldview was shaped directly by the writings of scholars like Fareed Zakaria who believe that in order to fight terrorism, the Western world must first understand the reasons for its emergence. According to Zakaria, terrorism occurs due to the absence of democracy and the presence of oppression at the hands of dictatorial regimes. This idea clearly appealed to Obama, leading him to support the Arab revolutions with full force.

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Strategizing At The Sphinx. President Obama during a tour of the Great Pyramids of Giza following his Cairo speech in June 2009 lending his support to the youthful revolutionaries. (MANDEL NGAN / AFP-GETTY IMAGES)

Was Zakaria’s idea correct? Have the Arab revolutions succeeded in bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle East, thereby eliminating terrorism?

The answer here is very obvious. It suffices to look at the Muslim Brotherhood, the biggest winner of these revolutions, which failed miserably in governance in both Tunisia and Egypt.

The most ironic part is that this failure could be attributed, in large part, to the strong tailwinds and backing that the movement received from leaders like Obama. In trying to eradicate terrorism through support and containment, Obama may have only helped spread terrorism. In seeking to replace one dictatorship with another, his vision for the Middle East was doomed to fail from the very beginning.

Hassan Al-Mustafa

(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

 

 

The Arab Voice – May 2020

Arab writers from around the world opine on the consequences of Corona  to Erdogan turning Turkey  into a “Republic of Terror”

 

Who Exactly Is Going To Buy Oil?

By Muhammad Khalil

Al-Watan, Egypt, April 22

There is a lot of buzz surrounding the plunging prices of oil, which crashed in the past week and entered into negative territory. Those most worried about this trend are obviously oil-producing countries, which have enjoyed disproportionate political power to date and are now at risk of bankruptcy.

The inevitable truth is that countries that have based their economies on oil or gas revenues will suffer greatly in the coming months. They will quickly witness their geopolitical power diminish, together with each decline in the dollar value of a barrel. Therefore, many spokespersons representing these nations were quick to appear in television studios worldwide, where they attempted to reassure viewers that the current crisis is just temporary.

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Heading South. Price of oil spiraling downwards.

Those who believe this claim should consider two basic things. First, the origin of the thunderous collapse in oil prices is in future contracts. The collapse in the prices of future contracts provides an unequivocal indication of how policymakers, industry officials and buyers anticipate the coronavirus crisis to unfold in the coming months. It is clear to all parties involved that the virus is here to stay for an extended period of time. Some countries already responded to falling prices by purchasing and stockpiling oil reserves.

China, for example, began in early April to purchase additional quantities of oil – taking advantage of its price collapse – to store it in its warehouses. I suspect other countries, like the United States, took similar measures. Warehouses around the world are full to the brim with oil reserves. This means that the collapse in oil prices is likely to continue for many months to come and that the matter is not temporary as some people may claim.

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Countries Pounce On Low Prices To Build Stockpiles. Crude oil storage tanks are seen in an aerial photograph at the Cushing oil hub in Cushing, Oklahoma, US, on April 21, 2020. (REUTERS/Drone Base/File Photo)

Second, one must keep in mind that irrespective of the COVID-19 crisis, the world has already begun moving toward renewable energy resources and substitutes for oil. Technological breakthroughs now allow shale oil to be extracted almost at the same cost of tar sand oil. In addition, petroleum derivatives are on the rise.

The world around us is rapidly changing. The countries that were rich yesterday may very well find themselves struggling for cash tomorrow. Oil empires that had once experienced crowds of buyers lining up at their doorstep might now find themselves begging nations to buy oil from them. They will encounter budget deficits, economic slowdown, and political instability. The outbreak of coronavirus is changing the way our world is operating in so many ways. One of them is the harsh future awaiting oil-producing countries, which once wielded influence over markets around the world.

 

Who Is Responsible For Coronavirus?

By Muhammad Al-Sheikh

Al-Jazirah, Saudi Arabia, April 20

There appears to be a diplomatic battle looming between the United States, Europe and China over Beijing’s responsibility for the spread of the coronavirus, which has struck all countries of the world and led to unprecedented economic losses exceeding several trillion dollars. The Americans still aren’t claiming that China is responsible for premeditatively spreading the virus but rather posit that the virus accidentally leaked out of one of China’s biological research laboratories, from which it made its way to the city of Wuhan and from there to the rest of China and the world.

This allegation is still being investigated by US authorities. It appears to be complicated to prove, mainly because US authorities lack irrefutable evidence about the spread of the virus. Unlike Iran or North Korea, China is far from a pariah nation. It is a member of the UN Security Council and wields enormous influence over almost every country around the world. Therefore, the US must be careful in provoking it.

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Blame Game. A close up of US President Trumps notes shows where Corona was crossed out and replaced with Chinese Virus as he speaks with his coronavirus task force in response to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic during a briefing in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House on Thursday, March 19, 2020 in Washington, DC. Jabin Botsford | The Washington Post | Getty Images

I am skeptical that the Americans or Europeans will cross the red line and wage a diplomatic war against Beijing, but what I am sure of is that Western countries will try their best to pressure China into making political concessions related to its economic expansion, including the Belt & Road Initiative. It is true that the Western world, represented by the United States and the European Union, is no longer what it was before the outbreak of corona. The European Union is falling apart, while the United States’ economy lost trillions of dollars.

Yet all of this does not mean that this camp is entirely weak. Aware of this dynamic, the US is looking at this pandemic as a way to weaken China and undermine its foreign policy. The corona epidemic will end sooner or later but the greater geopolitical consequences of this virus will be the focal point of the conflict between China and the Western world for years to come.
Muhammad Al-Sheikh

 

Erdogan Turned Turkey Into A Republic Of Terror

By Habib Al-Aswad

Al-Arab, London, April 21

Last week, Turkish authorities blocked the website of British newspaper The Independent. This incident came just days after the public prosecutor in Turkey demanded one to two years in prison for journalist Hazal Ocak, who exposed a bribery scandal involving the son-in-law of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. After accusing Ocak of treason, the prosecutor later amended the charges into the insulting of a public official, claiming that the journalist dishonored the dignity of Erdogan and his family in publishing the story.

Unfortunately, such developments are no longer considered newsworthy in the Republic of Terror established by Erdogan, as the country has turned into a large prison since Erdogan took the reins of absolute rule. According to Reporters Without Borders’s 2019 report, Turkey ranks 157th of 180nations in the Freedom of the Press Ranking and is thus one of the most established dictatorships. Furthermore, behind these numbers and figures lay massive violations of fundamental rights of ordinary Turkish citizens, alongside the detention of dozens of journalists speaking out against the regime.

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Press On. Demonstration in Turkey in defense of freedom of the press.

International organizations often cite China as the world’s most abusive country to journalists. However, a look at the data shows that in 2019, China, a country of 1.4 billion people, sentenced 48 journalists to prison, while Turkey, whose population is 82 million, imprisoned 47 journalists. In comparison to Turkey, China appears to be a safe haven for journalists and a beacon of free speech. Erdogan is keeping tight control over media outlets in his country to ensure that they refrain from criticizing his regime or revealing unnecessary information about its doing.

He also ordered them to launch an orchestrated campaign against Arab countries that reject political Islam. This includes the spreading of fabricated news and even the broadcasting of fatwas encouraging terrorism against these states. Most shockingly, Arab governments, parties, movements, associations, and media organizations associated with political Islam seem totally unconcerned with these violations of freedom of the press and expression. In their view, Erdogan is an infallible sultan who is being chased by conspirators.

This is the ultimate proof that political Islamists care about freedom only when it promotes their own political goals. When it serves to protect or empower others, it is simply too dangerous.

Habib Al-Aswad

 

*Translated from Arabic into English by Asaf Zilberfarb

The Arab Voice – March 2020

From Coronavirus to  Idlib

Arab writers respond to perplexing ‘plaguing’ issues in the region

Is Coronavirus a Conspiracy?

By Abdullah Bin Bakhit

Al-Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, February 14

We live in an age of fake news and conspiracy theories not only in the Islamic world, but also in America, where they have become more popular than ever. Today, there are books, magazines and online forums dedicated solely to the topic, many of which have been energetically covering the issue of the coronavirus epidemic. Did the virus originate from bats? How come it only broke out now and not in prior years? How come it emerged just as the US government exerted greater economic pressure on China? Did the Chinese physician who discovered the disease die of infection or was he killed? What are the Chinese authorities hiding from the rest of the world? Each of these questions generates tales, books, dialogues and interviews that neither the Chinese government nor news agencies can answer. Refuting these claims is not enough when people who are so skeptical of the existing world order.

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Before and after photos show how coronavirus fears have emptied out some of Saudi Arabia’s busiest holy sites (Getty Images/Business Insider)

The way in which people respond to these events – pandemics, accidents and wars – is no different than the way avid fans watch important sports matches: Everyone knows the details of the game, but everyone is keen to know the details behind what the facts hold and what the news says. Sadly, real news is often void of juicy stories that the public is looking for. Very few people possess the ability to hear the truth and act on its basis. There is also a big difference between conspiracy theories in America and those in the Arab world. Conspiracies in America stem from a mistrust in political institutions. The average American politician cannot capitalize on it. Conversely, in the Arab world, conspiracy is propagated by politicians. It’s always used to galvanize the masses. A review of the history of conspiracy theories in the Middle East will reveal that the conspirator always has a name: Zionism, the Mossad, the CIA, Freemasonry.

Abdullah Bin Bakhit

 

 Coronavirus: Between Reputation and Safety

 By Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, London, February 17

One of the biggest lessons we can learn from the coronavirus epidemic is that public health is an interconnected issue requiring cooperation by many different actors. Countries cannot combat the virus alone, and any attempt to conceal incidents of the disease might cause it to spread even more. The anger directed toward governments is further exacerbated by various rumors and conspiracy theories that have been spreading around, including the idea that the virus originated from a military laboratory at a biological-weapons hospital. The truth is that epidemics have accompanied people since ancient times. With the boost in global travel and environmental change being brought about by human activity, viral epidemics are only expected to grow. Governments can only be blamed for one thing: if they choose to advance their political reputation over the safety of citizens. The Chinese government, for example, is said to have contacted Li Liang, the first doctor to warn about the corona danger, threatening him to cease his warnings. Unfortunately, Liang was right, and he himself died of the virus he warned the world about. The good news so far is that the spread of infection within China has slowed for the first time since its outbreak. Because of corona, Chinese President Xi Jinping faces the most challenging time of his term since he stepped into office seven years ago. He deliberately took to the streets, accompanied by the media, and visited patients at different hospitals with a mask on his face. Clearly, the current state of panic surrounding the disease is far more dangerous than the virus itself. Despite the fact that coronavirus mortality rates stand at less than 2%, the news coming from China has been causing major concern in the West.

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Members of Kuwait’s national guard wearing safety masks keep watch outside a hotel in the capital where Kuwaitis returning from Iran are quarantined and tested for coronavirus COVID-19, on February 24 (Image Credit: AF)

The main concerns are that there is no vaccine to prevent the illness, no drug to treat it, and death occurs within three weeks of infection. Popular anger is a natural consequence of helplessness and fear, and if the scientific deficit persists in discovering treatments and vaccines over the next few months, the situation will become even more complicated, particularly at the political level. Economic breakdown, civil disobedience, travel boycotts and halts to trade are only a handful of the possibilities. Governments around the world have already resorted to harsh measures to prevent the virus from spreading in their own jurisdiction, including through the forceful isolation of anyone returning from Asia. These are harsh measures, but they are becoming more and more common. They might very well be the only way to stop the spread of the disease.

 Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed

 

Idlib in the International Arena

By Riad Naasan Agha (former Syrian minister of culture)

Al-Etihad, UAE, February 15

Many observers believe that what is happening in Idlib these days may inadvertently lead to the outbreak of a world war if the situation continues to get out of hand. Undoubtedly, the international community is keen on disarming this Syrian bomb for fear of getting involved in a bloody war. Unfortunately, Idlib, which used to be called the “forgotten city”, has become one of the most infamous places in the world. Today, over 4 million Syrian civilians are held there as hostages. Hundreds of thousands of others have fled. Instead of reducing tension and violence in Idlib, it seems like regional powers are turning the city into a site of never-ending bloodshed. The entrance of Turkish forces into Idlib Province to support rebel groups, concurrent with a growing Russian campaign to empower a local pro-Assad government, presents a real danger of escalation.

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People check the damage in a street following an air strike in Ma’arrat Misrin, part of Idlib governorate. Feb. 25. (Photographer: Mohammed Al-Rifai/AFP via Getty Images)

Indeed, the Idlib land mine might explode in the faces of Turkey, Russia, Iran, the United States and NATO following the failure of the Astana and Sochi agreements, which had been doomed to fail due to each actor’s own goals. Time and time again, I have called on our Arab brethren to restore their role in the conflict and demonstrate leadership at a time of need. There is no need to solve the Idlib crisis in the corridors of Geneva or Washington, but rather in the hallways of the Gulf. It is time for the Arab world to step up to the plate and fight to make sure that the Syrian people can finally live a free and dignified life.

They, too, understand that Syria is the gateway to greater security in the region.

Riad Naasan Agha

 

 

 

Shifting Sands

Saudi Writers To Palestinians: Accept Trump’s Peace Plan Or “You’ll Regret It Later”

By David E. Kaplan

While British Prime Minister Boris Johnson lavished praise on Donald Trump’s vision for Middle East peace during the PM’s question time in the House of Commons, far more telling was the ‘Shifting Sands’ responses from Saudi Arabian intellectuals and journalists.

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In 1960, a British Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan spoke of a ‘Wind  of Change’ blowing across the continent of Africa. Could it be that in 2020, another such transformative shift  could be blowing across the Middle East, emanating from the Arabian Peninsula –the birthplace of the Islamic prophet Mohammed?

While and to be expected, there is no change of the solid Saudi support of the Palestinian people and their quest for statehood, nevertheless, the official Saudi position on U.S. President Donald Trump’s “Deal of the Century” was one of support, albeit qualified.

The Saudi Foreign Ministry reaction was clearly revealed in the Riyadh-based, pro-government Saudi daily newspaper, Al-Riyadh  in the January 29, 2020 edition:

the Kingdom appreciates the efforts made by President Trump’s administration to develop a comprehensive Palestinian-Israeli peace plan, and it encourages the start of direct peace negotiations between the sides under U.S. sponsorship, in which any dispute regarding details of the plan will be settled. This, in order to advance the peace process and arrive at an agreement that will actualize the brother Palestinian people’s legitimate rights.”

This is a marked shift in attitudes from the past and a clear indication to move the process forward.

To  encourage the Palestinians and offer reassurance that they were not being abandoned by the kingdom’s “qualified” support for the plan, the Saudi press reported in Al-Watan that King Salman spoke with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas by phone, assuring him of “the Kingdom’s steadfast position vis-à-vis the Palestinian cause and the rights of the Palestinian people.”

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Over and above the royal position, most illuminating is the support the peace initiative has received from the Saudi media, as well as telling tweets by intellectuals and journalists.

Noting the famous line by famed Israeli diplomat, Abba Eban that “The Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity”, a number have been calling on the Palestinians not to miss “this opportunity” and to approach the plan with a positive mindset.

The articles and tweets recall that every plan offered to the Palestinians has been worse than the one preceding it and that if they reject the ‘Deal of the Century’ now, they may well long for it in the future.

Hereunder are extracts from articles and tweets:

Ibrahim Al-Nahas in the Saudi daily Okaz

Hasten not to reject and examine the plan carefully is the advice to the Palestinians from Political Science lecturer at King Saud University and Saudi Shura Council Member, Ibrahim Al-Nahas.

In an interview with the Saudi daily Okaz, Al-Nahas expressed that “Trump’s Peace Plan,’ or, as media call it, the ‘Deal of the Century,’ is an important stage in the Palestinian-Israeli peace process in particular, and in the peace process in the Middle East in general.” While this “does not mean that it should be accepted without discussion of its goals and objectives,” he added that “all the Palestinian elements must examine the plan carefully, and especially while keeping in mind past experience [with previous proposals]. ……”

He advised that Palestinian decision-making should not be linked “to regional elements [such as Iran, Qatar, or Turkey], as some Palestinian factions and movements do,” and “cease the accusations of treason voiced by some of the Palestinians and Arabs against Arab countries that maintain advanced ties with the U.S.”

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Ahmad Adnan in Okaz

Saudi journalist Ahmad Adnan wrote in his column in the Saudi daily Okaz located in Jeddah.

The PA has made negative statements against the deal. I maintain that at this stage it needs a friend to be honest with it, telling it and advising it: Sign the deal and then curse it as much as you want, day and night. The Palestinians have in decades past specialized in missing golden opportunities because of [their] mistaken assessment of their capabilities and of the crisis.”

After listing a number of examples of these ‘missed opportunities”,

Adnan writes that “In actuality, the Palestinian cause is no longer the Arabs’ main cause – not because the Arabs have given up on Palestine, but because this matter [i.e., the Palestinian plight] is mirrored in all Arab states, as we have seen in Syria, for example. The Palestinians will hear the merchants of the Palestinian cause creating a great uproar and will discover too late that this uproar is aimed at exploiting them in order to take over and destroy the region.”

Perhaps the merchants of the [Palestinian] cause will manage to torpedo the Deal of the Century, and, as we today bemoan the [missed opportunity of the] Arab peace initiative, we will tomorrow bemoan the Deal of the Century – while the Palestinians, unfortunately, descend towards the fate of the [American] Indians…”

 Khaled Al-Suleiman in Okaz

Concerned that if the Palestinians reject the deal that they will be compelled to relinquish even more, Khaled Al-Suleiman wrote in his column in ‘Okaz:

The history of the Palestinian cause has proven that reality is the greatest enemy of the Palestinians. The price of Palestinian and Arab rejection of every peace plan was [only] more concessions, beginning with the partition plan through the Clinton plan to the Trump plan.

It should be noted that the Palestinian decision-making has always been subject to pressure and control by  Arab regimes that harmed the Palestinians as much as Israel did, if not more.

Today, the Palestinians again find themselves facing a peace plan that gnaws away more of their rights and sets them against options even more bitter than those in the past. But rejecting [the plan] this time does not mean that the [next] will carry a lower price-tag. International reality is now presenting the Palestinian cause  with the worst possible scenario, since it is weak, isolated, and ignored. Therefore, the Palestinians’ options today are more limited, and cannot tolerate unrealistic positions.

“The Palestinians must calmly examine the reality of their struggle with Israel and of their relations with the Arab [regimes], so as to draw up a position that will serve their interests, not the slogans of others. All the Arab regimes that have in the past traded in their cause, and that continue to do so, live within their own independent borders, far from any state of war with Israel. Their support for the Palestinians consists of nothing but hollow slogans and incitement, for which the Palestinians pay with their spirit, blood and money.”

Muhammad Al-Osaimi in the Saudi daily Al-Yawm 

Noting that  the Palestinians have missed many opportunities over the years, columnist Muhammad Al-Osaimi in the pro government Arabic daily newspaper Saudi Al-Yawm daily, argues that had they grasped them, they would have been better off today. He therefore counsels they should not be quick to reject the ‘Deal of the Century’:

Who knows how many opportunities [for peace] the Palestinians have had in the past 30 years? Had these opportunities been realized, they could have been today in a better situation as a people and as a country …… Now they face another opportunity that they are rejecting, and that they may  long for in another five or 10 years.”

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Al-Yawm daily

 

Truth On Twitter

“The Day Will Come When The Palestinians Yearn For It” is the message from Saudi intellectuals on Twitter.

Saudi intellectual Turki Al-Hamad tweets:

The Palestinians are making a big mistake by not agreeing to the American peace plan. I mean, what’s the alternative? The Palestinians have missed numerous opportunities because of slogans that led [them] astray and strategies of ‘all-or-nothing.’ The end result was nil: continued occupation, loss of Jerusalem, erosion of large parts of the West Bank, and an internal Palestinian struggle harsher than the conflict with Israel.”

He followed with this further tweet:

Previous opportunities were better than this one, but their answer was always no. This was when the Palestinian issue headed the global agenda. Today, the Palestinian issue has been cast into oblivion, and the Palestinians have no other alternative – unless the chaos of Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad or the powerlessness of the PLO can be considered options.”

And in a subsequent tweet::

Politics is the art of the possible, and what is possible today is the proposed American plan. Should the deal be rejected, the alternative will be the continued erosion of the West Bank territories. Then the Palestinians will say ‘If only we had agreed’ – just like with the previous plans.

It’s time for the Palestinians to change their behavior so that it serves the interests of their people…”

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Saudi Intellectual Turki Al-Hamad who earlier criticised the Palestinians for forfeiting an important opportunity by boycotting the Bahrain Economic Workshop in 2019. (Watanserb.com, March 10, 2019)

A former columnist for Okaz and the Al-Arabiya website , Saleh Al-Fahid, tweeted:

The Palestinians’ rejection of the Deal of the Century reminds me of their rejection of the 1947 Partition Plan and of all peace plans proposed to them since then. Each time they were offered less, and they pointlessly yearned for the previous plan. I am worried that if they reject the Deal of the Century, the day will come when they yearn for it …”

Another Okaz columnist, Abd Al-Rahman Al-Lahim tweeted criticism of the Palestinian organisations opposing the deal:

Imagine you had a hen that laid golden eggs. Would you relinquish her? Never. You would make an uproar so as to fill your pockets. This is the situation of the Palestinians who trade in the Palestinian cause and reject peace…”

Changing Landscapes

Away from Saudi Arabia, no less illuminating of changing perceptions on Israel was Al-Jazeera presenter Faisal al-Qasim tweeting that “Zionism was the most successful project in the twentieth century.” Despite risking the wrath of his 5.5 million followers for “his kind of praise for the Zionists”, al-Qasim was not deterred.

He tweeted:

Who are the most advanced, developed, democratic and successful … Israel or the Arab regimes?

…..The majority of Arabs, if they want to insult you, they describe you as ‘Zionist,’ knowing that the most successful project in the past century and the present is the Zionist project, while all projects of the Arabs, especially Arab nationalism, have failed. Before you use the word Zionist as an insult you must first reach the shining sole of Zionism.”

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Al-Jazeera presenter Faisal al-Qasim.

A Far Cry

These words reveal changing mindsets.

They represent a far cry from the crazed anti-Israel rhetoric of the 1960s fueling Egyptian strongman, Gamal Abdel Nasser to unite the fractious Arab states behind him leading to the Six Day War. Now, in 2020, that anti-Israel fanaticism has begun to dissipate, and a new somewhat more positive attitude toward the Jewish state has begun to emerge not only among rulers eager for allies in confronting Iran, but also among segments of the Arab populace across the Middle East eager for peace and prosperity.

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Fueling mass hysteria against Israel in the sixties, President Gamal Abdul Nasser is seen here delivering a speech in Aleppo on February 17, 1960

The Arab Voice

Insightful perspectives in the twilight weeks of December 2019 from two Arab journalists on two politicians – one in the East and one in the West.

These writers note the duplicitous nature of both the Malaysian president, Dr. Mahathir Mohamad and the electorally trounced UK Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn and warn of the dangers of  their flirtations with the world’s extremists and supporters of terrorism.

 

The Kuala Lumpur Summit – A Play To Mislead The World

By Ali Kassem

Al-Arab, London, December 21

It is very surprising that the Malaysian prime minister chose to speak about Islamophobia in front of three leaders who sponsor notorious acts of terrorism

Why did the president of Malaysia, Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, choose to talk about Islamophobia, blaming Islamic countries for the exacerbation of the phenomenon, in the presence of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, and the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani? And who exactly are the Islamic countries that bear responsibility for exacerbating Islamophobia, according to Mr. Mohamad?

Let’s start by introducing Mahathir Mohamad. He was born in 1925 and grew up in a poor suburb, in a household with modest financial and social means. His academic excellence enabled him to obtain a scholarship to enroll in an English school, after which he studied medicine. But his passion for politics sent him on a long journey in which he assumed various positions in government, including the premiership of Malaysia since 1981.

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From Leader To Misleader. Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad delivers his keynote address at the Kuala Lumpur Summit Malaysia December 19.

Mahathir brought many accomplishments to the prime minister’s office. His greatest achievement was his economic recovery strategy, which he implemented after the Asian economic crisis in 1998. He defied the opinions of his advisers, who foolishly urged him to peg his country’s currency to the US dollar, and this bold step was one of the main reasons for the recovery of the Malaysian economy at a faster rate than other Asian countries. Mahathir received many local and international awards and honors, including the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding in 1994 and the King Faisal International Prize for Service to Islam in 1997. In 2007, he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

It is therefore very surprising that a man of such stature chose to speak about Islamophobia in front of three leaders who sponsor notorious acts of terrorism, generating the problem of Islamophobia in the first place. Perhaps it is Mohamad’s old age which rendered him blind to this fact. Mahathir’s comments were made during an Islamic summit in Kuala Lumpur, in which Saudi Arabia refused to participate. Riyadh explained that it will not attend a conference claiming to represent the interests of the world’s 1.75 billion Muslims unless it is held under the auspices of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

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Conspicuous By Their Absence. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani arrives in Malaysia to attend the Kuala Lumpur Summit 2019 at the invitation of Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. Notably absent was – Saudi Arabia.

At a time when Saudi Arabia is making efforts to combat manifestations of extremism and battle Islamophobia, the architect of political Islam, Mahathir Mohamad, has chosen to surround himself with three of the most powerful regimes sponsoring extremism and terrorism in the world. The strained relations between Saudi Arabia and Qatar are caused by the Qatari sponsorship of the Muslim Brotherhood, and its support for political Islam, both Sunni and Shiite. A Saudi presence in the summit would have given legitimacy to the Iranian regime, which does not hide its expansionist ambitions in the region. The same logic applies to Turkey. The three regimes mentioned above try to delude the rest of the world by participating in a conference condemning terrorism, while they ignite conflict and spew hatred behind the scenes. Mahathir would have been wiser not to associate himself with these three regimes.

Ali Kassem

 

Britain Needs To Get Rid Of Corbyn

By Amir Taheri

Asharq Al-Awsat, Lebanon, December 20

The British Conservatives’ victory in the recent election was described as a “landslide victory” and an “earthquake” by pundits. Indeed, given the fact that the Tories won their first parliamentary majority since the 1980s, the election may very well signal a “landslide victory” for Prime Minister Boris Johnson. And given the major defeat suffered by the Labour Party, the title “earthquake” seems fitting. However, a closer look at the results may give us a more nuanced picture of the results.

One of the key questions pundits have raised again and again is: How did voters who associated themselves with socialist values decided to abandon the Labour Party and vote Conservative this time around?

There are two possible ways to approach this question. First, what pundits fail to recognize is that the transition from Labour to Conservative isn’t necessarily new to these elections; it already happened during the 2016 vote on Brexit.

Put simply, the recent UK election just confirmed what we’ve previously seen in the Brexit referendum. Beyond the issue of Brexit, another key factor in Labour’s downfall is undoubtedly the party’s leader, Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn’s duplicitous response to antisemitic tropes within his party, his flirtation with the Irish Republican Army, his “brotherly” affinity with Hezbollah and Hamas (as well as his decade-long career as a commentator on the English-language channel of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards), his anti-Israel sentiment, and his anti-NATO stance, have all rendered him an unfit candidate to lead a major Western democracy.

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Labour Of Hate. It all went wrong for Corbyn and Labour.

Corbyn and his colleagues did everything in their power to destroy British social democracy and replace it with a radical movement that suffers from what Lenin described in 1918 as a “childish disorder.” With their own hands, they destroyed the Labour Party of Britain. Much to the luck of liberal British voters, the central pillar of democracy is that nothing is irreversible. Even the Labour Party can recoup and rebound. However, it must reinvent itself first. This cannot, and will not, be achieved with Corbyn as its head. The sooner Corbyn and his supporters step aside and give room to a new Labour leadership, the better for democracy in Britain.

Amir Taheri