Voices from the Arab press: Davos and underestimating climate change

A weekly selection of opinions and analyses from the Arab media around the world.

SWEDISH CLIMATE change activist Greta Thunberg (center) takes part in a climate strike protest during the 50th World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, January 24. (photo credit: REUTERS)
SWEDISH CLIMATE change activist Greta Thunberg (center) takes part in a climate strike protest during the 50th World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, January 24.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
DAVOS AND THE RISK OF UNDERESTIMATING CLIMATE CHANGE

Al-Etihad, UAE, January 24
Prior to the World Economic Forum, all eyes were set on the issue of climate change. On the first day in Davos, the forum’s organizers unveiled an ambitious list that included a wide range of banks, companies and civic leaders who committed to make this year’s forum a “turning point” in tackling global climate change.
In the hour before US President Donald Trump’s speech, notable participants in the forum agreed to step up to their moral responsibility and protect future generations. Simonetta Sommaruga, president of the Swiss Confederation, took the stage and warned of a “burning world.” She told the crowd, which included figures such as former US vice president Al Gore and European Commission chairperson Ursula von der Leyen, that “we need politicians taking action in their communities and around the world to ensure an environmental balance and curb global warming.”
In Tuesday’s first session, Greta Thunberg, the noted Swedish teenager-turned-activist, once again rebuked political leaders and media elites, and accused them of not fully explaining the scale of the disaster we are facing. She lamented that the catastrophe “cannot be solved unless we treat it as a real crisis.”
[But] at the conference, Trump used his speech to celebrate the recovery of the American economy under his presidency. He used his 30-minute time window to deliver what seemed like an electoral address. But he did not mention climate. The contempt inherent in Trump’s message was unambiguous: He described climate activists as “pessimistic prophets” and “foolish readers of the past.” The man who never stops inciting against immigrants on the basis of fear and suspicion took to the Davos stage and asserted that “fear and suspicion are insufficient” in modeling climate change.
Sadly, many in Davos didn’t see anything wrong with Trump. In an interview with The Washington Post, a European CEO described Trump’s speech as “highly enjoyable.” Tony Fratto, managing partner at Hamilton Place Strategies and deputy press secretary to former US president George W. Bush, claimed that “many top executives are very happy with what Trump is doing and share a similar agenda… Trump has more supporters here than I think people think.”
It certainly seems as if Trump succeeded in diverting the forum’s attention away from climate change. The idea of multilateralism and the cross-border cooperation promoted by World Economic Forum founder Klaus Schwab was surely nowhere to be found. One conference attendee claimed that Trump’s speech was completely out of context. Elsewhere, representatives of companies,
governments and civic groups were engaged in urgent discussions on the climate crisis.
Trump seems to live in the previous decade, while everyone looks to the next decade. Unfortunately, Trump is not alone. – Ishan Tharoor
ROCK BOTTOM FOR THE DEMOCRATS

Al-Jazirah, Saudi Arabia, January 24

I’m unsure what new bottom the Democrats and their media platforms might reach in their quest to discredit US President Donald Trump.
To this day, they are questioning the legitimacy of the killing of [Iranian general] Qasem Soleimani, whose hands were covered in the blood of hundreds of thousands of people in the Middle East. It was remarkable that Trump even had to explain to the Democrats the reasons for which he ordered Soleimani’s killing. The repeated questioning of Trump’s motives is disgraceful; it puts the Democrats on the side of the Iranian mullahs, which even [former US] president Barack Obama – who was far from a hawk – would not dare do.
In one of the political programs I recently watched on CNN, I could not believe what I was seeing. An entire panel of anti-Trump commentators was sitting in a studio and explaining to the American public how Trump’s decision to eliminate Soleimani was wrong and served as nothing short of an “insult” to America. This is total nonsense because Trump’s official statement, as well as those made by members of his administration, all confirmed that the targeting of Soleimani came in response to intelligence reports revealing Iran’s plans to commit terrorist acts against American interests in the region.
As I listened to the speakers on the panel, I couldn’t help but wonder whether they were foolishly unaware of who Soleimani was or whether they were deliberately trying to mislead the viewers. This is truly a rock bottom in objective journalism. Sadly, I have a feeling that the Democrats’ hatred of Donald Trump may send them to new lows. Based on the current rhetoric on CNN, I have a sense that we haven’t seen anything yet. – Ahmad Al-Farraj
TURKEY AND LIBYA CONFRONTATION

Asharq Al-Awsat, London, January 23
As a result of the [insurgent] Libyan National Army’s capture of Sirte and areas of Tripoli, and because [the Government of National Accord] thought it was about to lose the war in Libya, the Turks went to Berlin, where they hoped to save face through negotiations. There, the victors and the losers sat around the negotiating table and hoped that realism would push everyone to reach an agreement to end the years of violence in Libya. The agreement was signed by the parties around the table, with the sponsorship and backing of the United Nations, but it is more likely that these players will eventually return to fight over the last miles of territory left in Libya.
The Libyan war has seen some painful stages. 2015 was the year that wiped out hopes for reconciliation, as embassies in Tripoli closed, the United Nations withdrew its forces and chaos soon ensued in the capital. Competition between regional and major powers caused a continuation of the war, with Turkey fueling even more violence. Ankara deployed several militias to Libya (consisting mostly of foreigners) and justified its involvement in the war by claiming that it had made huge loans to Libya during the end of the Qaddafi era that were not paid back.
As for the motivation behind Turkey’s intervention in Libya, most commentators agree that Ankara is seeking to build an empire. This is unrealistic because it lacks the resources to do so, even with unlimited Qatari backing. The truth is that out of Turkey’s entire involvement in the Arab world, Libya remains its last standing ground. It had made a bet on the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, Egypt, Sudan and Libya, but all of these groups lost power. Even in Libya, Turkish-backed forces control only 15% of the country’s territory. In the wake of this crisis, Ankara is threatening to send more troops to defend Tripoli.
In the event that the Berlin Agreement fails, Turkey will fight with the Government of National Accord, and if they lose and the [insurgents] seize Tripoli, foreign fighters in Libya will have the task of sowing chaos. Erdogan is using this as a bargaining chip to exert pressure on southern European countries. He made this equation very clear when he threatened that Europe would not be safe if his allies in Libya fall.
Thankfully, Turkey’s power is limited: It might want to rule Libya but isn’t truly capable of doing so. One can only hope that Erdogan will understand this through diplomacy. But even if he decides to head into direct confrontation, Erdogan will eventually learn the hard way: Libya will become a huge burden on Turkey. If Ankara persists in its war, it will fail miserably. – Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed

DATES: THE KINGDOM’S ‘SWEET OIL’

Al-Eqtisadiah, Saudi Arabia, January 23

Palm trees have been associated with human life in the Arabian Peninsula since ancient times. Indeed, they have been so important that the palm tree symbol appears on the emblem of our kingdom. The number of palm trees in Saudi Arabia is estimated at 28 million. Their varieties exceed 400 and produce more than 1.3 million tons of dates per year. This represents 17% of global date production. In light of this, recent reports indicate that the kingdom occupies third place globally in the production of dates, or as some like it to call it, “the sweet oil,” given its economic importance.
In order for the kingdom to advance itself to first place, a few measures are in order. First, we must upgrade existing agricultural practices to improve our productivity. We must also promote strict global standards surrounding everything from best agricultural practices to the way dates are shipped and sold abroad. It is also important for the kingdom to establish joint stock companies in which half of the shares are owned by the government while the other half is offered for individual sale. These companies will collect crops from farmers, process them and market them so that date farmers can devote themselves to the main task of growing the crop and increasing its yield through the use of modern agricultural technologies.
By creating such companies, farmers will also be able to specialize and extract even more value from their crops. For example, dates must not be sold as raw goods. There are entire industries that make use of dates to produce other products, such as date juice, date powder, sweets and drinks, and even pharmaceutical products. Even the pit of the date can be used in beneficial ways for both nutritional and pharmacological purposes.
The interest in palm trees and their derivatives as a strategic crop is an important building block in food security. The global date market stands at about $13.5 billion, so it is important for the kingdom to ensure the continued abundance of palm trees as well as the financial potential they have. The sweet oil has great financial potential and should be viewed as a means to promote the kingdom’s Vision 2030 [development program, aimed at moving away from dependence on oil].
Mansour Al-Sayid
Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb.