The Arab Voice – October 2021

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

The Dictator Mark Zuckerberg

By Sawsan Al-Abtah 

Al-Arabiya, Saudi Arabia, October 16

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

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

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

– Sawsan Al-Abtah 

A Wakeup Slap From Facebook

By Mishari Al-Dhaidi

Asharq Al-Awsat, London, October 6

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

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

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

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

–Mishari Al-Dhaidi

A Woman Leading Tunisia’s Government

By Osama Ramadani 

An-Nahar, Lebanon, October 8

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

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

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

– Osama Ramadani 

*Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb.

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

The Arab Voice – September 2021

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

America and Afghanistan: Two different options on the table

By Waheed Abd Al-Majeed

Al-Ittihad, UAE, September 9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Waheed Abd Al-Majeed

Taliban: from Caves into a full-fledged Emirate

By Suad Fahad Al-Mojil

Al-Masry Al-Youm, Egypt, September 8

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

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

But let’s make no mistake:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suad Fahad Al-Mojil

Separating Damascus from Teharan is Impossible

By Charles Jabbour

Al Joumhouria, Lebanon, September 9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charles Jabbour

*Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb.

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 – July 2021

Arab writers from the Middle East and beyond, opine on potentially explosive issues in the north of Africa – the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam and Turkey’s interference in the affairs of Libya – that could have a global impact.

Playing with Water (and fire)

By Abdul Latif Al-Manawi

Al-Masry Al-Youm, Egypt, July 15

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam has become one of the most important issues concerning the Egyptian people and, perhaps, the entire Arab world. This is because it revolves not merely around water, agriculture and food security – but also because it threatens the national security of several countries in the region. Many international players have acknowledged this to date, including the United States. 

The Arab world has been united in its support for Egypt and Sudan, including, most recently, in a statement delivered by the foreign ministers of Arab countries in their recent meeting in Doha. Unfortunately, the Arab position doesn’t seem to affect the intransigence of the Ethiopian government, which continues to provoke and defy its neighbors to the north, including by moving forward with the dam’s second filling. It’s clear that the Arab world must move from talking to doing, and threaten Addis Ababa with sanctions and penalties should it refuse to cooperate with Arab demands. 

Damn the Egyptians! Ethiopians protesting in response at what they see as Egypt’s interference in their dam.

I don’t know when the next round of negotiations will commence, but I expect that it will only lead to more Ethiopian intransigence and Egyptian-Sudanese steadfastness on the situation. What we know is that Egypt will not give up its right to the waters of the Nile. Likewise, Sudan – which suffers from a weaker and poorer infrastructure than Egypt, and is thus expected to be most harmed by the project – will not sit idly by as its water resources are stolen. Does Ethiopia realize this? Do the decision-makers in Addis Ababa understand that they are passing the point of no return?

The answer, unfortunately, seems to be yes.

 Abdul Latif Al-Manawi

Fired up over Water. Sudan and Egypt are worried about the flow of the Nile in future years of drought.

Turkish Outage over the Flag Incident in Libya

By Suleiman Jawda

Al-Arabiya, London, July 16  

The recent session held by the Libyan House of Representatives in the eastern city of Tobruk was unlike any session held by the House since its very formation. In the session, the legislature was planning to discuss the general budget after a long political brawl over how resources should be allocated.

True Colours. Libyans in the capital Tripoli hold a demonstration to condemn a provocation that targeted the Turkish flag.

 However, the real drama took place not within the halls of the parliament, but rather outside, on the streets leading to the building. At the exact moment when Abdulhamid Dabaiba, Prime Minister of the Government of National Unity, was heading in his convoy to attend the session, a group of Libyan citizens spread out the Turkish flag on the road so that cars and passersby making their way to the parliament would trample it. The act drove the Turkish government crazy, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Ankara was quick to issue a condemnation describing the event as an “affront to Turkey” and a “heinous attempt to desecrate its national symbols.” 

Moscow called upon the Libyan authorities to take whatever steps necessary to arrest those involved in the incident. Those who followed these statements could easily sense how outraged the Turkish government was. But the truth is that Turkey shouldn’t be surprised by what transpired. The defiant act represents what a majority of Libyan citizens think about the Turkish presence in Libya

Mischief Maker. Imbedding itself in Libya’s troubled waters, Turkey  interference is likely to prolong the internal conflict.

Turkey describes its presence in Libya as a legitimate presence, and claims that it was agreed upon together with the government of Fayez Al-Sarraj. However, Turkey refuses to understand that its presence in a foreign country is illegitimate and illegal. The best thing for Erdogan’s government to do is to stay silent and swallow its pride. Then, it should think of ways it can quickly and elegantly exit Libya – because the flag incident is just the beginning.

It’s a prelude to the rage that exists among ordinary Libyan citizens who feel like their country has been kidnapped from them by foreign mercenaries.

Suleiman Jawda

*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 – June 2021

Arab writers from the Middle East and beyond, opine on issues ranging from making the case that Jewish sovereignty was never in the Middle East but in Russia, to whether Iraqis will boycott their upcoming election in October and the frightening fate of Syrian refuges in Denmark.

The First State of the Jews: Why is it a hidden fact?

By Fakhri Hashem Sayed Rajab

Al-Qabas, Kuwait, June 12

Have you heard of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast in Russia? Probably not. That’s because the State of Israel has a vested interest in hiding the fact that this republic exists.

The Jewish Autonomous Oblast, located in southeastern Russia, is the motherland of the Jews. Until this very day, a large portion of the local population is Jewish. Unfortunately, this fact has been obscured, in cooperation with the State of Israel, so that the Zionist dream of establishing a Jewish homeland in Palestine would continue to exist.

An artist impression of the visit of the Queen of Sheba to the court of King Solomon in Jerusalem in about 950 BC, long before there was ever a Russia.

Unlike what Zionists like to claim, Palestine was never the homeland of the Jewish people. The Jews could have easily established their homeland in their allocated autonomous region, where they wouldn’t harm anyone or rely on the continuous support of Uncle Sam.

For the record, this independent republic has an area of over 40,000 square kilometers. That is, it is close to the size of Switzerland. It also has an extremely low population density. Therefore, it could have served as an ideal homeland for the Jews. Instead of usurping Palestinian lands, Zionists could have built their nation at a place already allocated to them.

But this fact has been obscured so that the world would stand by Israel’s side as it steals Palestinian lands.

Another important question: Why did Zionists prevent the secession of this republic from Russia? How come the Jewish Autonomous Oblast didn’t seek independence, just like other territories such as Chechnya?

I think the answer is clear: No one wanted attention diverted away from Palestine. The Zionists wanted to keep their options hidden so that the territorial occupation of Palestine could continue to take place to this very day. 

Fakhri Hashem Sayed Rajab

Will Iraqis Boycott the next Election?

By Ali Hussein

Al-Mada, Iraq, June 11

The 2021 Iraqi parliamentary elections are scheduled to take place in October. Will the scenario we witnessed in the previous elections of 2018 be repeated? Will Iraqis boycott the election en masse?

Some might ask: Why not encourage the practice of democracy that takes place in most countries of the developed world? Why not vote?

An Iraqi student, holding a flag, flashes the victory sign during anti-government protests in the Shiite city of Najaf, in central Iraq, Jan. 28, 2020. – HAIDAR HAMDANI/AFP via Getty Images

Gentlemen, I, like all Iraqis, dream of real change, but what our politicians are practicing cannot be described as “democracy.” Our political system is not much different from a tragicomedy that is playing over and over in front of our eyes, on repeat. As soon as the elections are over, the exact same people will appear on our television screens, delivering the exact same speeches, ripe with the exact same buzzwords. “We came to save you” will be the gist of their remarks.

But what the people of Iraq are desperate for are political leaders who possess the qualities of integrity, honesty and magnanimity; not people who seek to enhance their own power, protect their own interests, and abuse their political immunity to evade corruption.

The foul odor of cronyism fills the hallways of our state institutions. From there, it spreads into the streets of our provinces, towns and cities, where local leaders fight over political titles, social prestige and power.

An Iraqi man updates his voter ID registration at an Independent High Electoral Commission center in Baghdad, Iraq January 20, 2021. Reuters

During the previous elections, about half of eligible voters in Iraq chose not to vote. They were tired of begging for their most basic rights.

I don’t know what the election results will look like. I also don’t know what turnout rates will actually be. But I do know that the people of Iraq are fed up. They cannot bear to suffer the same corrupt and inept leadership they’ve been dealing with for the past three years. 

Ali Hussein

Fear and Anxiety Among Denmark’s Syrian Refugees

By Dominic Sujil

Al-Ittihad, UAE, June 12

Getting through an entire night of sleep has always been a difficult task for Syrian refugee Sabriya, but now sleep has become almost impossible. The possibility that the Danish government will send her back to Syria is extremely unsettling.

If her attempt to appeal the revocation of her residency permit fails, Sabriya will have to choose between “voluntarily” returning to the country from which she fled or moving into a deportation center until further notice.

It doesn’t matter that the Syrian regime killed Sabriya’s husband and bombed her family’s home. It also doesn’t matter that she has no one to return to in Syria, and that all of her family members have been separated from each other. The Danish authorities have determined that it is currently “safe” for Syrian asylum-seekers to be repatriated.

Demonstrators in Copenhagen at a protest to stop the expulsion of Syrian refugees, on 21 April, 2021. The sign on the right reads, “Syrians are not your political game”. (B-Joe Johansen/TNH)

Indeed, Danish authorities have revoked more and more residency permits granted to refugees in recent years. Policy experts said the government’s decision reflects a long-standing effort to make Denmark less attractive to asylum-seekers. There are fears that foreigners could become a burden on the Danish social welfare system and harm social cohesion.

Experts on Syria, including a large majority of those consulted by the Danish authorities, rejected the notion that Damascus and its surrounding areas are considered safe in any way. More than a decade into the Syrian civil war, over a million Syrian lives have been lost. Lisa Blankenberg, senior adviser at Amnesty International, noted that if Syrians returned to government-controlled areas, they would be subject to interrogations, torture and potentially death.

So far, 400 cases of Syrians, including minors, have been rejected by the Danish immigration authorities. Rejecting cases does not result in immediate expulsion, for the simple legal reason that Syrians cannot be forcibly returned as long as diplomatic relations between Copenhagen and Damascus are severed.

 – Dominic Sujil

*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 – May 2021

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


Pope Francis and the Embodiment of Human Fraternity

By Ameel Amin

Al-Etihad, UAE, March 7

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

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

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

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

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


Let Kuwait Become a State of Law Again

By Bahija Behbehani

Al-Qabas, Kuwait, April 29

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

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

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

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

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

– Bahija Behbehani


The Importance of Culture and Literature in Politics

By Mustafa Elfeki 

Al-Masry Al-Youm, Egypt, April 29

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mustafa Elfeki

*All articles translated by Asaf Zilberfarb

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

The Arab Voice – February 2021

Arab writers from the Middle East and beyond, opine on the impact to the Middle East by the  undermining of US democracy by its Far Right, the life-threatening danger of “Conspiracy Theories” in the ‘Age of Corona and the change in US administrations from Trump to Biden

The Far Right – a threat to US democracy

By James Zogby, founder and president of the Arab American Institute, a Washington, D.C.–based organization that serves as a political and policy research arm of the Arab-American community.

Al-Qabas, Kuwait, February 14

The first two decades of the current century began with terrorism and ended with violence. They began with the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, which claimed the lives of nearly three thousand innocent people. They ended on January 6, 2021, with the storming of the US Capitol and the assault on US democracy. Despite the great difference between the two events, the damage caused by both was severe.

I’ve been a resident of Washington, DC, for over four decades, and none of the other events I’ve ever witnessed in the city had an impact on people’s lives as these two events have. In the aftermath of both attacks, we witnessed unprecedented security measures that left parts of Washington seemingly under military control. Both attacks left us feeling violated and vulnerable.

The biggest difference between the two attacks was the reaction of political leaders and lawmakers to each. The perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks were foreigners and the death toll was high, and so Americans generally united. In response to the attack, Democrats and Republicans came together to fight terrorism.

This often resulted in violation of the rights guaranteed by the Constitution, due to measures that contributed very little to protecting Americans from future attacks. Thousands of Arab and Muslim immigrants were unlawfully deported. Thousands of others were questioned and prevented from traveling by air, or lost their jobs and housing opportunities. The path was paved for an intrusive monitoring process that received support from both parties.

Following several investigations, a congressional commission concluded that the terrorists did not originate from inside the US, and that US intelligence agencies could have avoided the disaster, had they shared information with each other.

Instead of assigning responsibility to those who deserve it, Democrats and Republicans continued to support legislation and practices that targeted Arabs and Muslims, as though they were the cause of the attacks. As a result, many members of these communities lived in fear. Hate crimes and outright discrimination increased.

During the decade following the September 11 attacks, the Republican Party continued to exploit this fear of Arabs and Muslims, using it as a partisan issue in successive election cycles. This Republican approach accelerated after Barack Obama was elected president. Increasingly, this anti-Muslim sentiment fueled by the Republicans paved the way for Donald Trump’s xenophobic presidential campaign.

Unlike the 9/11 attacks, the January 6 insurgency and violence in Congress was a local affair in which a group of anti-government militias and far-right groups coordinated a homebred attack.

Storming the Capital. Trump supporters forcing entrance into the Capitol following earlier listening to President Trump at a rally near the White House. (Credit…Win McNamee/Getty Images)

We know that law enforcement officials anticipated violence before Joe Biden’s inauguration, but they were apparently unprepared for such a large number of protesters. As crowds of rioters stormed the Capitol building, law enforcement’s response was slow, leaving unsupported Capitol police officers in front of a massive crowd. It was horrific to watch armed barbarians break into congressional halls, smash windows, vandalize offices, beat security personnel and terrorize members of Congress.

The most shocking fact was that this violent disobedience was instigated by the president, his son, his lawyers and members of Congress, with the aim of changing the election outcome. The attack resulted in the deaths of five people, dozens of injuries, major damage to property and shock to the nation. After this violent insurgency, members of the National Guard remained deployed to secure Congress and other federal sites.

Despite the shock at seeing one of the symbols of democracy come under attack, tentative signs of national solidarity emerged. Republicans who supported Trump’s claim of fraud in the elections were initially alarmed by the violence and condemned the behavior of the former president. A few days later, however, these same partisans endorsed Trump again. While the attacks of 9/11 united us, the January 6 rebellion seemed to do the opposite.

After the 9/11 attacks, I was struck by the claim by a large number of commentators and political leaders that the terrorist attacks represented an “existential threat” to our country. This claim was nonsense. The ideas promoted by al-Qaeda never truly challenged the guiding values of this nation. It was the discriminatory policies intended to combat terrorism, which drove our endless wars on terrorism, that posed an existential threat to the US.

What is most concerning is the Republican refusal to accept the January 6 events as an “existential threat” of equal caliber. With 70% of Trump supporters still believing that the election results were rigged, Americans are facing an existential crisis at a historic level. Our security and rights were in danger after the attacks of September 11, but with the disobedience of January 6, our democracy itself is in danger

James Zogby

Conspiracy Theories – between a well-known pharmacist and my grandmother

By Ahmed al-Sarraf

Al-Qabas, Kuwait, January 22

Although there are nearly 70 years between what my grandmother told my father about vaccinations, and what was stated by a well-known pharmacist in a clip that spread on Kuwaiti WhatsApp groups, the idea, content and logic of both messages are the same.

Despite the immense scientific and medical progress our world has experienced, it seems as if some habits die hard.

I still recall the time when the government announced its plan to vaccinate all schoolchildren against polio. The following week, almost all schools in Kuwait were empty of students. A large percentage of parents were afraid to send their children to school for the fear that the “authorities” would forcibly vaccinate them – and thus diminish their fertility or stunt their development.

I specifically remember the argument that broke out between my father, a proponent of vaccinations, and my grandmother, who warned us against taking the shot. As a mischievous child, I sided with my grandmother, hoping to use the vaccination as an excuse to stay at home and avoid school.

Shot in the Arm. Sending a strong message to his people, His Highness the Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Sabah of Kuwait receiving his second dose of the COVID-19.

Meanwhile, last week, a well-known pharmacist released a video urging the public to avoid the COVID-19 vaccination, suggesting that it has secret adverse effects on those receiving it. According to the video, the vaccine was not thoroughly and scientifically tested and was rolled out in a hasty manner to quell public pressure.

Granted, the pharmacist’s tirade was utter nonsense, based on conspiracy theories and unsubstantiated rumors. But this didn’t stop the spread of the dangerous video. Actions like that of the pharmacists, alongside other vaccination skeptics, are a crime against modernity, science and logic. These people are an insult to human progress and a shame to all of us. Think of the scientist who developed the vaccine, the test participants who took part in the clinical trials, the nurses who administer the shots to patients. All of these people have risked their lives in order to protect hundreds of thousands of others – including this notorious pharmacist.

There is no way to end this phenomenon but to name and shame those who spread conspiracy theories. Ultimately, they are the ones who should be held liable for the preventable deaths of thousands of people who foolishly followed their messages and believed their lies.

Are we really willing to let our friends and loved ones die because of the foolish actions of others

– Ahmed al-Sarraf

Goodbye Trump, Hello Biden

By  Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Asharq al-Awsat, London, January 21

When Henry III of England died while his son Edward was fighting on the battlefront, the Royal Council decided to install him immediately, declaring:

The throne will not remain vacant, and the country will not exist without a king.”

A similar situation happened in France, when the son of Charles VI was declared king immediately following his father’s death. This led to the famous proclamation:

The king is dead, long live the king!”

Joe Biden is the president, the United States is the empire, and the vacuum of power is the most significant threat to the existence of America. This is why the presidential arrangements do not allow for any ambiguity about who is in power. The president-elect takes the 35-word oath before the chief justice of the Supreme Court, after the president whose term has expired leaves.

According to the American political system, Biden’s inauguration was certain, despite the fact that a large portion of the American public disputed his win. This is because the nation’s highest legislative authority, Congress, and the highest judicial authority, the Supreme Court, rejected Trump’s case.

Trump himself failed to convince his supporters, his cabinet members and his party leaders. His attorney-general, who protested and resigned, accused Trump of spreading nonsensical accusations. Like other members of Trump’s cabinet, he refused to accept the story that the elections were rigged and the presidency was stolen.

But Trump’s departure from the White House will not erase the great impact his policies had at home and abroad. Confronting China, for example – which is the most important issue for the United States – will remain a top priority even for the Biden administration.

What will be the new administration’s policy? It’s still too early to tell. Many in the Middle East fear that Biden will simply continue former president Barack Obama’s policies. Indeed, a large number of faces announced as candidates for leading posts in the Biden administration have already worked for Obama.

Uncertain Times. The Middle East waits to learn what impact the new US President Joe Biden will have on the nature and scope of US engagement with the Muslim world.

Obama’s policy in the Middle East, especially the one designed to deal with Iran, has been a failure. Then Trump came and besieged Iran, destroying its political and economic capabilities. Consequently, returning to the same point as when Obama left office is almost impossible, even if Biden were interested in doing so. Furthermore, the geopolitical conditions have changed: the Russians entered the conflict in Syria, the Iranians expanded their reach into Iraq, and Israel normalized its ties with several Gulf states.

The statements that came from President Biden and his team on the campaign trail certainly gave Middle East leaders a reason for concern. But over the past few days, these messages have changed. For example, the nominated secretary of defense, Gen. Lloyd Austin, praised the assassination of Qasem Soleimani. Similarly, the nominated secretary of state, Antony Blinken, blamed the Houthis for the situation in Yemen and assured Congress during his confirmation hearing that the new administration would consult Israel and the Gulf states on any future agreement with Iran.

All of these are positive developments indicating that the tides are turning even in the new White House. 

– Abdulrahman al-Rashed

*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 2021

Arab writers opine on issues ranging from the divisive damage of the Trump legacy on  sustaining democracy and unity in America to the prospects of Israeli generals salvaging the prospects of peace between Israel and the Palestinians and President Macron of France’s frustration with Lebanon’s ruling elite.


Trump’s Last Days in Office

By Abdel Monaam Said

Al-Masry Al-Youm, Egypt, December 19

What we’re currently seeing unfold in US politics is far from normal. Typically, a “lame duck” president – a term used to describe an outgoing president after his successor has been elected – simply focuses on the orderly transition of power from one administration to another. But Donald Trump is no ordinary president, and he refuses to abide by any political traditions or norms. Historically, incumbent presidents who lose the election call their competitor on the election night itself to offer their congratulations and accept their defeat. Then there is a ritual of meeting at the White House, with a customary handshake in front of the press pool. Furthermore, the outgoing president typically makes resources available to the elected candidate, in order to ensure that the new administration can begin working come Inauguration Day. However, with Trump, not a single one of these things happened. At the time of writing these lines, the Electoral College already cast its votes and affirmed Joe Biden’s victory.

On the Way Out. An advocate for the strength of America but does Trump leave office with the ‘State of the Union’ more fragile?

However, Trump refuses to accept these results and continues to pursue far-fetched policies, both at home and abroad, that presidents in his situation should avoid. The recent recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara and the normalization deal between Rabat and Tel Aviv is just one example. Trump remains adamant that the elections were rigged, despite the fact that all evidence points to the contrary. He took this issue to Congress and even the Supreme Court but failed to prove his case in these forums. America today is more divided, perhaps, than it has ever been before. The problem is not that 82 million Americans voted for Biden. The problem is that, after learning of Trump’s horrific stance on women, minorities and the world, some 75 million people voted for him. These voters, who constitute a significant portion of American society, are ready to take action to save Trump — including violence. In fact, one cannot rule out the possibility that some states might promote the idea of secession fromthe Union; a testament to how fragmented Trump’s America has become.

Abdel Monaam Said


Israeli Generals and Peacemaking

By Elyas Harfoush 

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, London, December 20

Israeli generals who have tasted the scourge of war are those who want peace the most.” This is a statement made by Benny Gantz, Israel’s defense minister and alternate prime minister. Unlike the politicians of the Likud bloc led by Benjamin Netanyahu today, who are driven by religious ideology and by insistence on controlling the land and obtaining peace at the same time, Gantz and many other senior officers in Israel acknowledge that comprehensive peace with the Palestinians will come with a price, including a territorial one. When Benny Gantz talks about the role that the Israeli army generals can play in making peace with the Palestinians, one might think of Israel’s former prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, who, during his tenure as minister of defense in the 1980s, said Israel should “break the Palestinians’ bones.” Later, however, he signed the Oslo Accords with Yasser Arafat and called to “stop the bloodshed of Israelis and Palestinians.” This change in Rabin’s positions, from a “bone breaker” to a peace partner, was met with defiance by Israeli religious zealots, who considered Rabin a traitor. Their incitement eventually led to his assassination on Nov. 4, 1995, leading to an abrupt ending of Israel’s peace talks with the Palestinians. Like Rabin, Benny Gantz also seems to have come a long way from his military days. From the chief of staff of the Israeli military who led two wars on the Gaza Strip, Gantz became a “civilian” who admits that full and comprehensive peace in the Middle East cannot be achieved without a settlement with the Palestinians. He went on to say:

The Palestinians deserve an entity in which they can live independently.”

Smiling in the Snow. Israel’s Minister of Defence, Benny Gantz who expressed recently that a “comprehensive peace in the Middle East cannot be achieved without a settlement with the Palestinians” is seen on December 15, 2013  as the then-IDF Chief of Staff (left) enjoying a fun snowball fight with a family of Palestinians along the West Bank’s Route 60. (Judah Ari Gross/Israel Defense Forces)

Even the division of Jerusalem was not off the books for Gantz, who suggested that “the city of Jerusalem is large enough and has plenty of sacred sites for all religions.” This statement, coming from the most senior officer in the Israeli army, is very revealing. It is a stark reminder that Israel’s military superiority alone is not enough to end the conflict and provide long-term stability for the region. Notably, it is not usually the job of the military officers to make peace. In Arab countries, many leaders walked the opposite way, turning from civilians, who have no experience on the battlefield, to “generals” who hung stars and medals on their chests, and led their people and armies into defeats and disasters. In Israel, it is difficult to question the experience of military leaders. Therefore, they are often more willing to speak freely. And more and more of them are realizing that power and force alone cannot bring about peace. Of course, we all know that appeals alone do not make peace, and that moderate worldviews like that of Gantz’s are only good insofar as they resonate with a wide audience. Unfortunately, in Israel, the general public seems to identify with a more extremist worldview that seeks to maximize Israel’s gains without making any concessions. That’s why Gantz’s vision remains a mere slogan and not an implemented reality. Here, we return to the role played by extremist groups in any chance for peace. Those calling for extreme solutions on both sides of the conflict are not satisfied with any concessions. Israeli extremists raise the banner of territorial control and expansion, alongside military supremacy. Palestinian extremists rally around the idea of “resistance” and refusal to recognize Israel. Both of these camps are spoiling whatever chance there is to salvage the situation in the Middle East. And neither one of these groups is actually promoting their respective side’s long-term political interests.

Elyas Harfoush


Will Macron Launch a New Initiative to Incite the Lebanese Against Their Ruling Class?

By Ali Hamadeh

Al-Nahar, Lebanon, December 18

French President Emmanuel Macron was supposed to visit Lebanon next week, as part of a series of visits he has been conducting to Beirut following the port disaster in August. During his last visit, Macron gathered representatives of Lebanon’s political echelon at the French embassy in Beirut and presented to them a political-economic reform initiative, sponsored by France. Those in the room unanimously agreed to accept it, in light of the deteriorating conditions in Lebanon. However, since then, nothing has happened. Despite announcing their approval for Macron’s stimulus plan, these lawmakers and business tycoons did what they do best: allowed the initiative to drown in Lebanon’s political bureaucracy. The cancellation of the current visit, caused by the fact that Macron tested positive for COVID-19, places an even greater question mark over the French initiative.

French Frustration. Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun (right) welcomes French President Emmanuel Macron (left) upon his arrival at the airport in Beirut, Lebanon August 6, 2020.

In his planned visit, Macron was slated to meet French forces operating in southern Lebanon as a part of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). He also planned to hold meetings in Beirut with President Michel Aoun, to express his dissatisfaction with the government’s failure to assume any responsibility over the country’s dire situation. It is safe to assume that, during the visit, Macron also planned to address the Lebanese people in an effort to turn them against their irresponsible leadership, which is busy playing petty political games. He also was expected to criticize the country’s ruling class for its failure to accept the financial reforms presented to them. In light of the visit, Prime Minister Saad Hariri submitted a brief to President Aoun, in order to sign the decrees that would allow him to form a government in line with the spirit of the French initiative. But the latter kept Hariri waiting and suspended the formation of a new government. Without a new government, the French initiative cannot move forward and Lebanon will not receive any of the aid it had been promised. In any case, it is possible that Macron will still want to address the people of Lebanon from Paris, despite canceling his visit. In doing so, he will send a message to the Lebanese leadership that Paris will no longer put up with Beirut’s political ineptitude. In fact, there are rumors that Macron might announce an entirely new initiative for Lebanon; one which calls on the Lebanese people to rebel against the ruling class and organize in new political groups ahead of the 2022 elections.

– By Ali Hamadeh

*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 (O&EO).

The Arab Voice – December 2020

Arab writers opine on issues pertaining to the Middle East from the impact of an incoming Biden administration for the region to the significance of the late Diego Maradona beyond his magic on the playing field.


Iran’s Bells and Whistles

By Muhammad Al-Sheikh 

Al-Jazirah, Saudi Arabia, November 28

The missile fired by the Houthi militias at an oil tanker docked outside the Port of Jeddah had no military value, but rather an informational one. It was done purely for propaganda.

The event took place on the direct orders of Iran, and the weapons used in the attack were likely shipped directly from Tehran. But the goal was to divert attention away from the exceptional success made by Saudi Arabia at the recent G20 summit, which gave the kingdom a significant economic boost while tightening its relationship with the European Union and the United States. The mullahs see and understand the kingdom’s growing role both in the Gulf region and on the global arena. They worry about this development. In response, they seek to destabilize the region with whatever means they have at their disposal, including through their proxies in Lebanon and in Yemen. Iran has no choice but to negotiate with the West and sign a new nuclear agreement that would lift the economic blockade reimposed upon it by the Trump Administration. Otherwise, it will most surely face political and economic collapse.

Heating Up. An official source at the Saudi Ministry of Energy said that the fire that broke out at the Jeddah fuel tank in a distribution terminal of petroleum products was caused by a terrorist attack pointing to the Iran-backed Houthi militia.

Therefore, it can be said that the tanker attack was in fact a message aimed at the new American president, Joe Biden, as well as at the Europeans, reminding them that Iran is still harmful. However, what the mullahs are failing to consider is the fact that the countries of the region are much stronger today than they were when President Obama signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The normalization of ties with Israel changed the political equation and created a new united regional front against Iran. No matter how much Iran tries to bully its neighbors, it is in a very weak position, both economically and militarily. Furthermore, the world has grown tired of Iran’s support of armed militias in the Middle East, and has placed many of these groups, including Hezbollah, on the terror watch list. The fanfare that Iran’s militias create — whether in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon or Iraq — is nothing more than bells and whistles. It will not strengthen Iran’s negotiation power or enable it to evade international sanctions. Obama’s vision for the Middle East proved to be disastrous. Thankfully, geopolitical changes that took place in the region over the course of the past four years ensured that Iran doesn’t have the upper hand even as Biden steps into office.

– Muhammad Al-Sheikh 


Gulf Security During the Biden Era

By Dr. Abdul Aziz Hamad Al-Oweishek, assistant secretary general for Political Affairs and Negotiations, Gulf Cooperation Council  Al-Sharq

Al-Awsat, London, November 29  

When US President-elect Joe Biden takes office on January 20, Gulf security will be among the most important issues that his administration will have to deal with. Biden is no stranger to this issue. He was involved in it during the era of former President Barack Obama. Prior to that, Biden spent 35 years in the Senate, during which he served as a prominent member and occasional chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, one of the most important committees in the Senate, in which Gulf security has occupied an important position over the past decades. Biden’s election marks a return to the traditional course of US policy, in terms and style, after the term of President Donald Trump, who came from outside the traditional establishment that dominates Washington. Biden represents stability and has good relations with leaders of both the Democratic and Republican parties. There is bipartisan consensus among American policymakers that the security of the Gulf is paramount to US national security. Despite the unusual personal style of President Trump, his administration relied heavily on the Gulf security architecture that was devised well before he took office in January 2017. Since the Iranian Revolution of 1979, a security framework has been developed based on the need to secure international shipping routes and American strategic interests in the Arab Gulf. This security framework confirms the central role played by the Gulf Cooperation Council in maintaining regional security. This framework has not changed much throughout the years, and Biden is not expected to change it either — unless Iran’s behavior changes drastically. Gulf countries and the United States maintained close ties ever since the establishment of the Gulf Cooperation Council in May 1981. During the war to liberate Kuwait, America relied heavily on the Cooperation Council, which played a pivotal role in the Gulf War. Amid the events of the Arab Spring and the tumultuous turmoil that led to the growing Iranian interference in the region, the two sides agreed to establish a Strategic Cooperation Forum that would facilitate even closer cooperation between the GCC and the US. In March 2012, the founding meeting of the forum was held at the headquarters of the Cooperation Council in Riyadh, headed by the late Prince Saud al-Faisal and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. It was attended by foreign ministers and senior officials from the GCC countries and, on the American side, by a large delegation of administration officials. Several working groups were formed and direct lines of communication were established between the two sides, through the General Secretariat of the Cooperation Council, the US State Department and the National Security Council at the White House.

Securing Security. U.S. Marines on a removable Trident Pier leading to an American ship docked near an Emirati military base in al-Hamra, UAE, on March 23, 2020 (AP Photo Jon Gambrell)

The forum paved the way for the first summit between the Cooperation Council and the United States, which was held in Camp David in May 2015. The second summit was held in Riyadh in April 2016, during the last year of the Obama presidency. At the time, it was agreed to expand the scope of cooperation to include issues such as economic diversification and youth empowerment. In May 2017, the third Gulf-American summit was held under President Donald Trump, affirming the strong commitment to the Camp David Accords, while greatly expanding the scope of cooperation. Therefore, there is an agreement among all political parties in the United States regarding the importance of the Gulf-American partnership. This does not mean that the American political system is rigid and that changes in policy don’t happen. However, the fundamentals of the GCC-US partnership are based on a deeply-rooted alliance that has only grown stronger each year. Both parties understand that the Gulf’s security provides stability of energy markets, strengthened trade and investment, and a calmer Middle East. Therefore, the American policy toward the Gulf will not change under Biden’s leadership.

 –Dr. Abdul Aziz Hamad Al-Oweishek


Maradona: The Golden Boy of Football

By Ali Hussein 

Al-Mada, Iraq, November 27

When Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano published his famous book, “Football in Sun and Shadow”, the phrase he insisted on putting on the cover read:

Football is the mirror of the world, revealing a thousand stories on glory, exploitation, love, and misery…it represents the struggle between freedom and fear.”

“The Magician”. Regarded as one of the greatest players of all time,  Argentine professional football player Diego Armando Maradona displaying his magic on the field.

To Galeano, football was a choreographed war in which “11 men in shorts are the sword of the neighborhood, the city, or the nation” and wherein “old hatreds and old loves passed from father to son enter into combat.” Thanks to players like Maradona, and before him Pele and dozens of others, football has become a mirror to everything happening in the modern world: It provides people with a sense of identity and belonging; it allows people to fight over competing ideologies; and it has even been shaped by businesses, multinational corporations, and dirty money. What Maradona did for his country of Argentina not even a thousand Argentinian diplomats or policymakers could do. He brought Argentina to the homes of millions of viewers around the world, who watched him use his exceptional skills to manipulate and overtake his rivals on the field.

Magician of Delusion. Scoring self-goals, then  Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki lashing out at foreign criticisms of his policies. (File photo)

Despite our preoccupation with the matches taking place inside the halls of the Iraqi parliament, we, in Iraq, also follow football. But at a time when the world is grieving the loss of legend Diego Maradona, who was nothing short of a magician in the world of football, we are unfortunately dealing with another “magician,” Nouri Al-Maliki, seeking to delude us that the political failures taking place during his eight years of service have been the fault of everyone but himself. If it weren’t for the international conspiracy against him, Al-Maliki claims, Baghdad would have been competing with Singapore, Tokyo and Berlin. And Al-Maliki isn’t alone; it seems like many of our politicians are suffering from amnesia that prevents them from remembering that our country is suffering from bankruptcy and corruption carried out under the delusion of progress and development. Maradona led his country, Argentina, to victory over most of the countries of the world. He scored hundreds of goals against his opponents on the field. Unfortunately, it seems as if our esteemed parliamentarians are seeking to score goals against their own people by serving their own interests instead of ours and introducing laws that further restrict our freedoms and liberties.

–Ali Hussein 

*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 (O&EO).

The Arab Voice – October 2020

Arab writers from the Middle East opine on Sudan’s deal with Israel and on the danger to the region of Erdogan remaining president of Turkey.

Sudan’s Deal with Israel: A Courageous Act

By Muhammad Al-Sheich

Al-Jazirah, Saudi Arabia, October 31

Sudan is the Arab country that suffered the most from the disasters of political Islam, particularly from the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood ruled the country for nearly 30 years and applied all of its perverted theories in it, turning Sudan into a weak, divided, and failed state in every sense of the word – in addition to one boycotted by most of the Western world. The ousted al-Bashir regime embarked on grandiose ventures that proved to be utterly foolish. This put Sudan on a bleak path, which got bleaker and bleaker with each passing day, until the Sudanese people finally took to the streets and replaced their regime.

Tide was Turning. A Sudanese woman with her face painted with “Just fall, that’s all” in Arabic flashes the victory gesture during an anti-government demonstration in Khartoum on April 9, 2019. (AFP / Getty)

I visited Sudan many times; I know it well and have many friends who still live there. I know firsthand that Sudan boasts incredible human resources: people who want to do good in the world, who seek to build a better future for themselves and others, who wish to put their country on the right track. The problem of Sudan is that it is a museum of ideologies: Every Sudanese you find sympathizes with a different party or a group and the common factor between all these groups is their animosity toward each other. The last revolution was a genuine revolution, carried out by the young men and women of Sudan, but it fell short of its objectives. It failed to generate a real leadership capable of lifting Sudan out of its mess. The biggest problem of the defunct regime, along with its Brotherhood supporters, is that it insists on reinventing the wheel instead of drawing on past experiences, theories, and applications. This results in a never-ending state of failure. The Brotherhood, in all of its formations, has been Sudan’s Achilles’ heel. It brought destruction to Sudan time and again. Thankfully, there are early signs suggesting that the people of Sudan have finally learned this lesson. Instead of promoting more regional conflict and ideological clashes, they took the right path by prioritizing their collective national interest over the interest of various power groups. More specifically, I’m referring to their decision to normalize their ties with Israel. It goes without saying that Israel is one of the most innovative and technologically advanced nations in the field of agriculture.

Path to Peace and Prosperity.  A buoyant  Minister of Sudan, Abdalla Hamdok, whose country has taken the decision to  normalize relations with Israel.

Partnering with Israel could bring great breakthroughs for the Sudanese economy. The two countries share similar soil and climate conditions. Rejecting the Israeli experience to boost Sudan’s well-being would thus be foolish. In addition, by normalizing ties with Israel, Sudan will finally be able to remove itself from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. This, in turn, will pave the way toward much-needed international loans and aid that would flow into the countries. In short, Sudan can reap incredible benefits from a deal of this kind. Therefore, I saw this with confidence: Sudan’s decision to normalize its ties with Israel is one of the most courageous decisions in the nation’s history – one that may very well change its fate and put it on the right path for decades to come.

Muhammad Al-Sheikh

Boycotting Turkey – Security and Economic Necessity

By Muhammad Al-Sheikh

Al-Jazirah, Saudi Arabia, October 24

A popular campaign has been spreading across our country like wildfire: the boycott of Turkish products, goods, and services. My hope is that popular campaigns of this sort, in Saudi Arabia and beyond, will finally be able to influence Turkey and serve as the last nail in Erdogan’s coffin, forcing him to step down.

Erdogan is facing problems from almost every direction. On top of his growing opposition at home, he is encountering tremendous pressure abroad, where Turkish troops and mercenaries are deployed to carry out their czar’s grandiose ambition of reviving the Ottoman Empire.

Visions of Grandeur. Erdogan’s ambitions of reviving the Ottoman Empire may undermine Turkey stability.

Erdogan is deeply committed to this vision of Ottoman greatness. It is this idea that guides almost every one of his decisions. It is also this idea that pitted Turkey against nearly every other country in the world, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt. Indeed, Turkey under Erdogan’s rule has become an imminent threat to all Arab countries. This makes the downfall of Erdogan an urgent priority for the Arab world. There is no way to achieve this goal except to apply immense pressure on the Turkish economy and force its leadership to change its ways. The entire free world, not just the Arab Gulf, would benefit from Erdogan’s departure. Turkey is one of the world’s largest and most important sponsors of terrorism. Take, for example, ISIS, which is still fighting in Syria and Iraq thanks to ongoing Turkish support.

All of this is happening right before the eyes of Europe and America, yet not a single country has lifted a finger to intervene in this situation. Add to all of this, cheap Turkish products are flooding international markets and undermining local industries. Morocco, for instance, was forced to impose tariffs on Turkish cotton in order to protect its own cotton industry. Jordan is planning on taking similar action, as is Algeria. These new tariffs, together with the boycott movement taking shape in the Gulf, will ultimately constitute a large and powerful financial force against Turkey. Erdogan has already asked his cronies in Qatar to assist him in curbing this new campaign. In response, Qatar bribed Saudi expatriates living in London and Canada to speak up against the boycott campaign waged by their compatriots. Similar efforts have been carried out to convince the people of Iraq to stand by Turkey. But this attempt, too, is doomed to fail. Let’s not forget that it was Turkey that made its bases available to the Americans when they chose to invade Iraq. Saudi Arabia, in contrast, refused to be complicit in the war that destroyed Iraq.

Making Mischief in the Med. Turkish drilling ship Yavuz seen last year being escorted by a Turkish naval vessel to the Cyprus coast.

The important thing, dear readers, is to continue this campaign no matter what. I have no doubt that the boycott will grow larger and larger, forcing the Turkish people to rid themselves of this ghoul who is sending their country backward.

– Muhammad Al-Sheikh

*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 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