Hot off the Arab press

What citizens of other countries are reading about the Middle East.

Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, at the company’s annual conference in San Francisco in 2008. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, at the company’s annual conference in San Francisco in 2008.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Palestinians resist Zuckerberg’s favoritism of Israel
Al-Hayat, London, October 25
In 2011, after several Israeli groups filed complaints against incitement, Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook removed a Palestinian page calling for a third intifada, less than a month after the page was launched. The page, which received 250,000 likes, was removed under the official pretext of “inciting violence against Jews.” Meanwhile, several Israeli newspapers revealed that what Israeli authorities were really concerned about was a “Palestinian popular revolution similar to those that occurred throughout the Arab world, which gained momentum through the reliance on social networks.” Facebook’s compliance with the Israeli requests, however, only made the protests stronger: the page was replaced by a new one calling for a march on Jerusalem on Nakba Day.
This year, a widespread virtual campaign to protest the “occupation’s incarceration of Palestinians” was launched. It is estimated that more than 24 million users changed their profile pictures to an image of a blindfolded Palestinian youth wearing a brown Israeli Prisons Service uniform. More recently, four other pages affiliated with Palestinians were removed. Israel has to fight Palestinians on a new platform: the virtual world of social networks.
Are al-Qaida and Islamic State the Arab world’s two new popular parties?
Al-Nahar, Lebanon, October 26
What is unique about the recent upheaval in the Arab world is, perhaps more than anything else, how radical Islamic movements turned from secret networks of fighters and commanders to popular public resistance forces. Among the organizations that have undergone this shift are al-Qaida and Islamic State. As Islamic State took over growing parts of Iraq and Syria, for example, support from local Sunnis increased; the same is happening in Yemen and Libya. In other words, it seems as if salafist movements have taken the place of the Muslim Brotherhood, which used to be the fundamentalist Islamic alternative to the different Arab regimes.
The question remaining is whether this popularity will increase. Will we see, just a few years down the road, Washington negotiating with al-Qaida or Islamic State, as two legitimate political actors in the region? The collapse of Arab regimes with no clear political replacement created a dangerous vacuum. The Brotherhood, which traditionally filled this void, made serious political mistakes in certain countries such as Egypt, which diminished its popularity. Now, extremist organizations are gaining momentum. Today, this void is becoming more dangerous than ever before.
This explains the real reason for the West’s campaign in Syria and Iraq: The West is not willing to let radical Islam become a legitimate political player in the Middle East.
Egypt’s fight against terrorism … and Gaza
Al-Dustour, Jordan, November 1
Egypt’s comprehensive security campaign along the Sinai border with the Gaza Strip assumes that the besieged Strip is the main source for terrorism in Sinai.
Egyptian authorities have begun constructing a buffer zone on the border, destroying homes that were inconveniently situated in their way. Hardly a day goes by without hearing of the destruction of yet another cross-border terror tunnel by Egyptian forces. This intense crackdown, accompanied by an unprecedented virulent media campaign on behalf of the central government in Cairo, symbolizes Egypt’s “declaration of war” against the people of Gaza. This brings the Egyptian- Palestinian relations to an all-time low, exceeding the tense relations between the sides under Hosni Mubarak’s regime.
But rising terrorism in Sinai cannot only be attributed to Gaza. After signing the peace treaty with Israel, Egypt was required to limit its military presence in the peninsula; a move that created political, economic and social marginalization of its inhabitants, who were neglected by the Cairo government. Moreover, the geography of Sinai is extremely difficult, as the majority of the region is comprised of deserts and mountains. A few tourist hotspots emerged in several towns on the coast, but the rest remained a hotbed for terrorist activity, both from internal Beduin tribes as well as external jihadi forces. The instability in the Sinai stems from many internal factors that should not be underestimated. By only blaming the Gaza Strip, and without solving its domestic problems, Egypt will never be able to eradicate terror from Sinai.
The failures of American intelligence
Al-Watan, Egypt, October 31
In a period of about six months, President Barack Obama admitted four times that the American intelligence community had failed in its assessments. The first failure surrounded the possibility of a Russian invasion of Crimea, which the US did deem possible.
A few weeks later President Vladimir Putin sent Russian forces across the Ukrainian border, in a war that is still unfolding. The second involved American “optimism” that Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime would fall and the moderate and liberal opposition would replace his rule. Yet Syrian civil rule has proven to be one of the deadlier wars so far.
The third occurred when Islamic State forces succeeded in taking over significant regions of Iraq, with the US underestimating the organization’s power. The fourth, and perhaps the most frightening, is the US’s surprise regarding the Iraqi army’s weakness in facing Islamic State. This same Iraqi army was trained and built from A to Z by the US, yet it caught the president by surprise. The question that therefore arises is how can the most powerful country in the world, with its vast intelligence community and the high funding, produce such horrific intelligence failures? We are talking about weak estimates and poor analysis, at a time when force is mainly attained through access to information. If this is the face of the American intelligence, then our world is not a very safe place.