Voices from the Arab Press: Prisoner diplomacy between Netanyahu and Assad

The humiliating and unequal prisoner swap with Israel further erodes [Syrian President] Assad’s prestige.

IMAGES OF Syrian President Bashar Assad and late Cuban president Fidel Castro are held aloft during a May Day rally in Havana on May 1 (photo credit: REUTERS)
IMAGES OF Syrian President Bashar Assad and late Cuban president Fidel Castro are held aloft during a May Day rally in Havana on May 1
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Prisoner diplomacy between Netanyahu and Assad
Al-Akhbar, Lebanon, May 1
What is happening between Israel and Syria under Russian patronage goes beyond appearances. Earlier this month, Israel announced receipt of the remains of an Israeli soldier [Zachary Baumel] who had been buried in the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in Syria. He was killed in the Battle of Sultan Yacoub in Lebanon during the 1982 Israeli invasion. Two weeks later, Israel announced the release of two Syrian prisoners held in Israel. It is worth noting that the Israeli remains were given a Russian honor guard in Moscow in advance of their transfer to Israel, while the Syrians were released with little publicity. Still, behind the scenes it seems as if the two countries, Syria and Israel, have engaged in confidence-building measures under Russian auspices, but without any of the participating parties announcing the broader context of any ongoing communications and their ultimate objective.
This comes at a time when Iran is preoccupied with its growing crisis with the Trump Administration, after the latter made another step on the road to an economic blockade of Iran. Tehran is too preoccupied with its own problems to care about what is transpiring in Syria. It is clear that the common denominator among the main players in Syria is to get Iran out. This is the declared Israeli position, coupled with a policy of open strikes against all possible Iranian targets throughout Syria, while Moscow turns a blind eye. In practice, Moscow informed the relevant parties in Damascus and Tehran that an Iranian acquisition of Latakia port in Syria would make it a legitimate target for the Israelis and subject it to blockades by European and American naval patrols.
[Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin knows that a political solution in Syria is not possible without Washington and that the Americans will not agree to a political solution that does not include the exit of Iran from Syria. This means that Russia must find a way to work with the US unless it wants to find itself stuck in the Syrian quagmire for many more decades. [Syrian President Bashar] Assad continues to evade the Russian initiative to return all displaced Syrian peoples and deliberately delays the implementation of what he is expected to do, such as the passing of a general amnesty law.
In this context, the humiliating and unequal prisoner swap with Israel further erodes Assad’s prestige. At the same time, it suggests that he is ready to make whatever concessions are necessary to Tel Aviv if it means Russia will have his back. In fact, several regime officials have told me that Assad will not hesitate to sign a peace treaty with Israel if this assures his survival.
Even in this case, I find it very difficult to see Assad remaining because all the peace agreements would not negate the simple fact that his regime is hostile to the majority of its people. How will Iran will respond to this? That’s the most interesting question.
Nadim Qutaish
Trump and the designation of the Muslim Brotherhood
Al-Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, April 30
The main problem behind the continuation of terrorist operations, the latest of which were the horrific Sri Lanka bombings, is the failure to stand up to groups promoting hatred and intolerance. The mother of these groups is the Muslim Brotherhood, which the Trump Administration is seeking to designate a terrorist organization, according to recent reports. It would be an important step if this takes place, and would support the forces of moderation that have suffered so much at the hand of extremist forces in light of the West’s so-called freedom of expression.
In reality, this weak treatment of terrorism kept these radical ideologies alive, providing inspiration for numerous terror groups around the world. The separation of radical religious beliefs from terrorist acts is wrong. Neither can work without the other. We have not heard of a terrorist who is not an extremist. By criminalizing extremism and outlawing its symbols and placing terrorist groups on the watch list, there will be fewer opportunities for these groups to recruit.
As the years have gone by, terrorist operations have not diminished, but have increased and become more brutal, from ramming attacks to the bombing of hotels and restaurants. Terrorist crimes in recent years have been carried out by the post-9/11 generation. The reason is mainly because of the persistent insistence of Western governments to distinguish between terrorism and extremism. In practice, it is difficult to establish a culture of moderation and tolerance at a time when the Takfiris are acting freely and with the support of countries such as Qatar, Turkey and Iran to destroy any opportunities for coexistence and modernization.
The Brotherhood’s ideology is a reservoir of extremist ideas that directly negate science and modern culture. It stands out against modernity and progression. It is quite practically impossible to move forward with society without defeating the Brotherhood’s culture of intolerance and ignorance. The American decision is therefore a great one. It is impossible to go one step forward with the presence of the Muslim Brotherhood in our lives. – Mamdouh al-Miheni
A POSTER of then-Egyptian president Mohamed Mursi reading ‘No substitute for the legitimacy’ is seen after night clashes with anti-Mursi forces in Giza, on the outskirts of Cairo, on July 3, 2013. (Credit: Reuters)A POSTER of then-Egyptian president Mohamed Mursi reading ‘No substitute for the legitimacy’ is seen after night clashes with anti-Mursi forces in Giza, on the outskirts of Cairo, on July 3, 2013. (Credit: Reuters)
Are Islamist groups going out of vogue?
Al-Sharq al-Awsat, London, May 1
Today’s reality indicates a sweeping decline in the popularity of political groups, especially Islamist ones, across the Middle East. The most recent examples are in Libya and Sudan. It is still too soon to declare “the end of history” for Islamist groups that aspire to rule the Arab world, especially given Iran’s growing support for such movements and networks.
A look at Hamas in the occupied Gaza Strip and Hezbollah in Lebanon will suffice in understanding how pockets of extremism continue to exist in some parts of our region. However, political groups that used to dominate the Arab world during much of the 1990s and 2000s have now come under heavy scrutiny and external pressure. The countries that once funded these ideologies have lost their power, and even the Gulf, once the hub for these groups, has distanced itself from their ideologies.
The decline in the power of political groups is true even of secular movements, which are experiencing a marked decline in places like Saudi Arabia as a result of legislative reforms and state-led modernization projects. The impact of the Trump administration’s plan to drain the financial resources of the Iranian regime, which directly funds dozens of groups and centers in Iraq, Lebanon, Africa, and southeast and central Asia, is another crucial factor.
What is happening in Sudan and Libya is part of an opposition movement against the dangerous progress marked by extremist movements that almost succeeded in taking the reins in countries like Egypt, Iraq and Libya – but luckily failed. Although these movements appear to have significant differences between them, such as the Muslim Brotherhood on the one hand and al-Qaida on the other, they have similar ideas and aspirations.
In Iraq, the Americans sought to build an advanced civil society by creating democratic institutions, drafting a constitution, setting up an elected parliament and securing free media. But the Americans themselves quickly took a step back when they allowed religious organizations to participate in these networks. In Iraq, too, we see a decline in the influence of political parties and political figures.
– Abd al-Rahman al-Rashed
The future of Arab education and scientific research
Al-Etihad, UAE, May 1
Last week, in Sharm el-Sheikh, a symposium titled “The Future of Education and Scientific Research in the Arab World” was organized by Bahrain’s Issa Cultural Center in cooperation with the Arab Research Centers Alliance. It was attended by a group of thinkers and researchers to crystallize a strategy to treat the ongoing academic crisis experienced throughout the Arab world. The hope is to enlighten Arab societies about the magnitude of the problem, which will only be exacerbated if its root causes are not addressed.
The lack of ingenuity in Arab thought and scholarly inquiry has led to intellectual backwardness. Instead of using science and its laws, intellectuals and thinkers in the Arab world have replaced them with ideological illusions. Universities in the field of human and social sciences, rather than being scientific laboratories and institutions of knowledge, have become institutions without any benefit in the development of Arab societies. If we say that one of the priorities of the Arab and Muslim world today is to reform and develop societies, we need to invest heavily in the development of education. The renaissance of nations is achieved only through education. The advancements of scientific research and quality of education are central to strengthening the economy.
Most international reports confirm the poor level of education in the Arab world, and the Arab education system needs urgent reforms to address the problem of unemployment and other challenges. Although most children in many Arab countries have benefited from compulsory education, there are significant gaps between what educational systems there have achieved and what the region needs in the process of economic development.
As one report suggests, one of the reasons for the link between weak education and weak economic growth is significant gaps in education. What we are required to do is find a solid and capable educational common denominator. This requires a great effort by all those concerned about education to work together to determine the appropriateness of the educational curricula to goals and desired strategies.
If we are talking here about economic growth and sustainable development, we should also talk about participatory growth and participatory development based on participatory approaches. Airbus, based in the French city of Toulouse, does not manufacture airplanes by itself, but constructs them as a result of cooperation with several companies in other European countries. Why is it that we Arabs do not create Arab companies that contribute to global industrialization even though we have the human potential to do so? Why don’t we leverage the great talent we have in our countries to turn our region into a global hub of technology and innovation? – Abd al-Haq Azuzi
The Media Line