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

(*Translation from Arabic by Asaf Zilberfarb)


By Meshary Al-Dhaidi

Asharq Al-Awsat, London, April 29

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Meshary Al-Dhaidi


By Ali Hamada 

An-Nahar, Lebanon, May 12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Ali Hamada 


By Abdullah Juma Al-Haj

Al-Ittihad, UAE, May 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Abdullah Juma Al-Haj

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


Three Arab writers opining on Middle East issues, address Israel in crisis over right-wing judicial overhaul; fear of a nuclear Iran  “within 12 days”, and reflections on the Aqaba Summit aimed at easing local tensions before Ramadan and Passover   

*(translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)


By Tarek Fahmy

Al Ittihad, UAE, March 4

Demonstrations in Israel’s streets have gradually grown in response to the Netanyahu government’s measures concerning the judiciary. Despite the passing of the Judiciary Law in its preliminary readings in the Knesset, the underlying issue is larger than the Supreme Court’s powers and functions. It is related to the relationship between state institutions, the government’s information apparatus, and the desire to limit Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s power.

Netanyahu’s battle with the judiciary is only a precursor to what is to come. The opposition to his judicial reforms has steadily expanded, garnering the attention of notable businessmen, former military personnel, religious leaders, and scientists – a precedent unseen in the history of the Israeli state. This situation reveals the depth of instability Israel is facing. These internal rifts within Israeli society can’t simply be ignored. The opposition to Netanyahu has grown beyond Israel’s borders, with a strong mobilization in Jewish organizations, particularly in the United States, where influential circles have spoken out against the Netanyahu government. This signals that the instability in Israel is not exclusively a result of disagreements over the extent of Netanyahu’s power, but rather a wider issue. As the Israeli Supreme Court has the power to deem Netanyahu unfit for office, this could have far-reaching consequences. Netanyahu is currently being tried on multiple charges and is attempting to delay the trials for as long as he can. Nonetheless, the opposition parties lack the ability and experience to effectively counter Netanyahu, even with the support of President Herzog, who has gone beyond his authority to find solutions to the current crisis. The Israeli Right believes that the Supreme Court has systematically ruled in favor of liberal voices while undermining conservative ones. In recent years, the decisions of the Supreme Court have sought to limit the government’s control over religious institutions. The religious parties, as well as other right-wing parties in Netanyahu’s coalition, are attempting to pass measures in the West Bank and Jerusalem in order to accelerate their settlement plan. This includes renouncing all agreements made with the Palestinians, such as the Oslo and Paris accords.

Protesters gather outside Israel’s Parliament in Jerusalem on March 27, 2023, amid calls for a general strike against the hard-right government’s controversial push to overhaul the justice system.– | Afp | Getty Images

This unrest has led to seven major demonstrations in Israel, with the possibility of further escalation if the coalition ministers, such as Ben Gvir and Smotrich, continue to pursue their plan. Netanyahu faces a significant challenge in his ability to take external action such as striking Iran due to the divided internal political landscape of his current coalition, which has limited experience and is focused on his own narrow interests. This will lead to a growing risk of societal escalation and ultimately, an unstable state of affairs in Israel. 

Tarek Fahmy


By Ali Hamada

An-Nahar, Lebanon, March 3

The debate is no longer about whether Iran will become a nuclear power but rather about when it will be able to do so. This comes after the Pentagon reported that Iran could produce a nuclear weapon in as little as twelve days.

William Burns, the head of the Central Intelligence Agency, further lent credence to this claim by noting that Iran has the capability to enrich uranium to 90%, the level needed for a military nuclear program. Speculation has abounded over the past two years regarding the potential revival of the 2015 nuclear deal. Both Iran and the United States had pledged to adhere to the deal, yet no progress was made until April 2022. In September, European Foreign and Security Policy Coordinator Josep Borrell presented a comprehensive paper for the agreement and Washington accepted it. However, Tehran stalled and proposed conditions, such as forcing Washington to lift sanctions on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in conjunction with their acceptance of the deal. Despite Borrell’s efforts and the pressure group in the White House led by Robert Malley, the American official responsible for the Iranian issue, the agreement may have been derailed by the Russian war on Ukraine. Both Israel and regional neighbors have already warned that Iran’s nuclear program is not peaceful and civilian in purpose, but rather a cover for a secret military program. Tehran has increased the quantities of highly enriched uranium 19 times more than permitted and refuses to comply with the 2015 nuclear agreement. This suggests that it is not a matter of diplomatic maneuvering. Rather, Iran’s goal is to produce the first Iranian nuclear bomb as soon as possible.

The regime is further weakened by the wave of protests that followed the death of Mahsa Amini, which has caused a disturbance in the foundations of the regime and its legitimacy. Today, we must consider the prospect of a nuclear Iran. Is it possible to exist peacefully with it on a regional and global scale? If not, what are the available options to address this problem? Could an Israeli-American strike be launched to disable the nuclear program? What might the repercussions and outcomes of the Iranian regime’s reaction be? Moreover, it is reasonable to question whether the West will respond weakly to this pressing issue and whether Russia will join the Euro +1 group, which includes Israel, in an effort to bring about a resolution. We must focus our attention on the perilous situation that the region and even the global community faces if the West were to initiate a military attack against Iran’s nuclear program. It is also important to consider the consequences if Iran were to acquire nuclear capabilities. Would the mullahs act with more restraint than their current behavior indicates?

These are difficult questions that must be considered in light of the fear of annihilation that such actions could bring. 

Ali Hamada


By James Zogby

Al-Ittihad, UAE, March 12

The Aqaba Summit highlighted the failings of US policy toward Israel and Palestine. Hosted by Jordan, the gathering of leaders from Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Jordan, Egypt and the US sought to ease tensions ahead of Ramadan and Passover. However, the summit failed to address the key issues, instead opting to settle on a series of outdated half-measures proposed by the US. Israel agreed to a temporary freeze on settlement activity and demolitions of Palestinian homes, a decrease in raids on Palestinian population centers, respect of the status quo in Jerusalem, and the release of tax money owed to Palestinians under existing agreements. The Palestinian Authority agreed to suspend its bid for recognition at the United Nations, boost security cooperation with Israel, and use extra tax revenues to recruit and train – with US backing – new security forces to better monitor armed resistance groups in the occupied territories.

Palestinian youths in Gaza city demonstrate on 26 February 2023 against an Israeli-Palestinian summit hosted by Jordan in Aqaba. [Ahmed Zakot/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images]

However, the outcome of the summit demonstrated that these agreements were inadequate and far removed from reality. The Palestinians are still reeling from the recent Israeli operation in Nablus, which escalated into a massacre that left 11 dead and over 100 Palestinians injured. At the summit’s conclusion, Palestinian gunmen fatally shot two Israeli settlers in their vehicle in the village of Huwara. Within a few hours, hundreds of extremist Israeli settlers descended upon Huwara, injuring hundreds of Palestinian residents and setting fire to hundreds of homes and cars. Since the new government led by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has come to power, raids and settler violence have drastically increased with impunity. After the Aqaba Summit, bloody raids, shootings and settler attacks have only continued. Following an Israeli raid that resulted in the death of six Palestinians in Jenin, the Palestinian Authority security forces attacked the funeral procession of one of the victims and objected to the raising of Hamas flags, further solidifying the Palestinians’ perception of the Palestinian Authority as an “arm of the Israeli occupation.” When news of the Aqaba “agreements” spread in Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu swiftly declared there would be no settlement freeze. Another minister announced his intention to continue demolishing Palestinian homes in Jerusalem during Ramadan. An Israeli member of Knesset joked that “what happened in Aqaba stays in Aqaba.” These events triggered a chaotic situation in Israel and Palestine. The current Israeli government consists of hard-liners who are often violent and refuse to recognize the rights of Palestinians. After the United States has supported Israeli governments for many decades, Israelis in power feel they can evade responsibility and accountability. The Palestinian Authority has been weakened by its failure to fulfill the “promise of peace” and its humiliation by the United States and Israel, leading to a lack of support from disgruntled voters who now retaliate when provoked. The Palestinians are likewise out of control. It is misguided for the United States to assume the Aqaba proposals will restore order. Instead of applying a Band-Aid to the festering wound, Washington should have used a scalpel to identify and address the root causes of Israelis’ sense of entitlement and impunity and Palestinians’ anger at continued abuses. Unless the United States sets firm boundaries for Israel and tangible negative repercussions for its ongoing misdeeds, the violence will not cease, a new discourse within Israel will not take shape, and the Palestinians will not find solace. This change will not come about overnight; decades of political mismanagement have plunged us into this abyss.

To get out of this quagmire requires courage, dedication and foresight. For the sake of safety, until this happens, we must brace ourselves for more trying days ahead.

– James Zogby

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


Arab writers opining on Middle East issues, address the wider ramifications from the devastating earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria

(*Articles translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)


By Sami Abd Al-Latif Al-Nisf

An-Nahar, Lebanon, February 9

The world has been sending its heartfelt condolences to the innocent victims of the recent earthquakes in Turkey and Syria. The destruction caused by the earthquakes, coupled with the freezing temperatures, hail and rain, necessitates the urgent and generous support of Kuwait, the Gulf and Arab countries, and the international community.

The magnitude of the disaster is unprecedented. This is the worst earthquake to hit Turkey since 1939. As the Turkish leadership noted in their recent address yesterday, the survivors of the earthquake require aid in the form of tents, blankets, medicine and food.

As we rally to support the Kuwaiti and Gulf relief efforts for Turkey, we must also ensure that aid is delivered to those affected by the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Syria. Working in coordination with the Syrian leadership and international organizations, we must guarantee that the aid reaches those in need in areas such as Hama and Aleppo.

Ruin in Rumaila. A family from the Rumaila area in Jableh district in northwestern Syria stands close to their destroyed house. © UNICEF/Hasan Belal

It is time for any internal or external political disputes to be set aside, and for us to fulfill our responsibility to our brothers and sisters in Syria facing this catastrophe. Geological studies suggest that this could be the start of a series of devastating earthquakes that may continue until the end of the year.

We must not forget those in need. At this time, when the world is moved by the plight of the victims of the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria, it is important to remember the lack of humanity shown by some extremists when similar disasters have befallen non-Muslim nations.

Instead of empathizing with those in need, they have gloated, expressed hatred and attributed these natural disasters to the words and actions of political leaders in those countries, without explaining why the whole population is being punished for the wrongdoings of a few. How can they justify the exposure of our Islamic countries to the same disasters with even more severity and casualties? It is essential that we show a little humanity and modesty.

– Sami Abd Al-Latif Al-Nisf


By Kheir Allah Kheir Allah

Al Rai, Kuwait, February 9

The devastating earthquake that struck southern Turkey and northern Syria has had a dramatic impact on the political realities of the two regions. In particular, Turkey’s plan to form a buffer zone within Syrian territory, some 30km to 35km deep, has been thrown into question.

The Turkish regions that have been affected by the earthquake, have seen much of their infrastructure destroyed. Rebuilding these areas will require tens of billions of dollars, compounding the existing economic crisis already gripping Turkey.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s grand ambitions to take a dominant role in the region, all the way to Libya, have been starkly revealed as overreaching. He must now reevaluate his plans for 2023 and Turkey’s regional role, as well as the 1923 international treaties that imposed restrictions on Turkey following the fall of the Ottoman Empire, notably with regard to its control of the Bosporus strait.

The recent earthquake in Turkey has highlighted the country’s need for support from the US and Europe – if it wishes to be respected as an influential player on the world stage. Erdogan’s attempt to curry favor with Vladimir Putin by purchasing a Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missile system, despite Turkey’s status as a core member of NATO, is a misguided maneuver that will not bring the country closer to its goals.

Additionally, the end of Erdogan’s efforts to pressure Bashar Assad into meeting certain conditions and signing a new version of the Adana Agreement of 1998, will be seen as a relief by the Syrian regime. The agreement that enabled the handover of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan to the Syrian regime, allowed Turkey to authorize its forces to enter Syrian territory if necessary.

Despite attempts to spread news of international leaders contacting the Assad regime, a sense of relief will not last long. In fact, the world, including powerful Arab nations, will increase its focus on Syria, albeit from a humanitarian perspective, rather than for the purpose of rehabilitating a regime that is aware it is at war with its own people and lacks autonomy in decision-making.

The Syrian regime has become a follower of the Islamic Republic of Iran. This development will likely be welcomed by Syrian Kurds, represented by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The SDF’s ties to the US will strengthen, and they will have more freedom of action as a result of their relationship with the US and the reduction of Turkish pressure.

The devastating earthquake that struck southern Turkey and northern Syria was a tragic event that overshadowed all other news around the globe. But the resulting political realities, both in terms of Turkey, President Erdogan and its regional role, and the Syrian regime, cannot be ignored.

Human tragedy complicates Turkey’s agenda. Seen here is Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visiting on February 8 displaced residents in Kahramanmaras, Turkey.(Photo Anadolu Agency/Anadolu)

The fate of the Syrian regime is now hostage to the destiny of the Iranian regime and the various regional issues it is associated with. Ultimately, the Western world will return to its interests in how to address Iran’s nuclear program, as well as the Iranian regime’s destructive role in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and elsewhere.

Attention will be paid to Iranian militias and their presence in southern Syria, and whether or not Iran will respond to the recent Israeli strike which targeted a key military site in Isfahan possibly linked to the production of ballistic missiles. Here, it is worth noting the growing possibility of US-Israeli coordination on Iran, and its activities outside its borders.

The devastating earthquake in Turkey and Syria has brought to the forefront, not only the human tragedy of the event, with an estimated 40,000 dead and tens of thousands of displaced people, but also the political ramifications.

The earthquake raises questions about Turkey’s role in the region and the world. President Erdogan had been hoping for 2023 to be a year of new beginnings for Turkey, with the removal of restrictions imposed by treaties signed a century ago. The success of this will depend on two things: the outcome of the May elections and Erdogan’s ability to face reality rather than clinging to illusions. It is up to Erdogan to be more realistic in his dealings with Greece, rather than using it as a campaign issue for internal voter mobilization.

 – Kheir Allah Kheir Allah

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


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

(*Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)


By Amir Taheri 

Asharq Al-Awsat, London, January 8, 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Amir Taheri 


By Bashara Charbel

Nida Al-Watan, Lebanon, January 7, 2023

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

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

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

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

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

– Bashara Charbel

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


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


By Abdul Latif Al-Minawy

Al-Masry Al-Youm, Egypt, November 25

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abdul Latif Al-Minawy


By Meshary Al-Dhaidi 

Alsharq Al-Awsat, London, November 23

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

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

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

 – Meshary Al-Dhaidi 

*(Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)

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

The Arab Voice – September 2022

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


By Kheir Allah Kheir Allah

Al Rai, Kuwait, September 9

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

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

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

Only time will tell. 

-Kheir Allah Kheir Allah


By Osama Al-Ghazali Harb

Al-Ahram, Egypt, September 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what have we learned?

– Osama Al-Ghazali Harb

(*Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)

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


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



By Karam Gabr 

Akhbar el-Yom, Egypt, June 2

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

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

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

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

– Karam Gabr 



By Riad Naasan Agha 

Al-Itihad, UAE, June 1

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

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

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

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

– Riad Naasan Agha 



By Rami Caliph Al-Ali

Okaz, Saudi Arabia, June 10

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

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

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

Rami Caliph Al-Ali

*(translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)

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


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

Unacceptable Behavior Toward Women

By Khaled Montaser

El-Watan, Egypt, May 5

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

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

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

– Khaled Montaser

Israel and Its Stance Toward Iran

By Tariq Fahmy

Al-Ittihad, UAE, May 6

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

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

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

– Tariq Fahmy

President Putin and Islam

By Farouk Jweideh

Al-Masry Al-Youm, Egypt, May 7

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

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

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

-Farouk Jweideh

*Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb

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

The Arab Voice  –  February- March 2022

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

Vladimir Putin’s calculated choice

By Amr al-Shobaki 

Al-Masry Al-Youm, Egypt, February 28

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anything else would be a failure for Moscow.

– Amr al-Shobaki 

Russia, Ukraine & Arab countries’ interests

By Abdullah bin Bijad Al Otaibi 

Al-Ittihad, UAE, March 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Abdullah bin Bijad Al Otaibi 

Ukraine & emergence of a new world order

By Ali al-Khushiban

Al Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Ali al-Khushiban

*Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb.

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

The Arab Voice  – January 2022

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

Israel and the Nuclear Deal

By Tarek Fahmy

Al-Arabiya, Saudi Arabia, January 23

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tarek Fahmy

Houthis are Iranians of Yemen

By Farouk Yousef

Al-Arab, London, January 22

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

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

Is there a path to peace in Yemen?

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

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

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

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

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

Farouk Yousef

*Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb.

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