Hot off the Arab press 438313

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

A Saudi woman leaves a polling station after casting her vote during municipal elections in Riyadh on December 12 (photo credit: REUTERS)
A Saudi woman leaves a polling station after casting her vote during municipal elections in Riyadh on December 12
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Al-Madina, Saudi Arabia, December 20
The first municipal elections in Saudi Arabia ever open to female candidates proved to be a remarkable success, with 20 female candidates elected to public office. This is an unprecedented development in Saudi politics, which are slowly opening up to women, not only as voters but also as candidates.
Approximately 100,000 female voters turned up at the polls last week, representing the highest turnout rate in the kingdom’s history.
Although I have full faith in Saudi women and their ability to excel in public positions, these elections caught me by surprise. Throughout the years, our society instilled women with a sense of fear and anxiety. Soon enough, women disappeared from the public sphere.
The elections last week mark a true change for us.
Yes, there is still a lot of work to do. Most female candidates – over 900 women, in fact – did not make it to office. But these elections are a win-win situation for us. First, they finally allow us to fully exercise our civic rights. Second, they raise awareness to our cause and show the people of our country that women’s integration leads to positive cultural, social and economic changes.
Ten years ago, I first called for female participation in the political process. The idea was premature back then. Today, however, Saudi women won public posts not only in the big cities but also in the small towns of our country.
I bless each and every woman believing in her right to participate in the political process in order to make a change in the world she lives in. Similarly, I salute each and every man who stood by a woman’s side and supported her ambition of achieving independence. Most importantly, I commend our great nation, which allowed for this blessed change to take place, allowing history to unfold against our eyes.
– Amira Kashghari
Al-Sharq al-Awsat, London, December 18
Ever since concluding the nuclear agreement with Tehran this past summer, sanctions have been slowly lifted from Iran. And despite certain pleas to include Tehran’s extraterritorial involvement in the region in the nuclear deal, the United States limited the scope of the agreement solely to Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Now, however, there are signs that this stance might be changing. A senior US official recently claimed that the United States will target all Iranian institutions and individuals supporting Tehran’s involvement in Yemen, Syria, and Lebanon. In other words, the US will explicitly distinguish between the lifting of sanctions associated with Iran’s implementation of the nuclear deal, and the removal (or nonremoval) of sanctions associated with its funding of terrorism.
While the White House did not corroborate this statement, there is still reason to believe that it reflects the administration’s change in stance toward Iran, as it came from a Treasury official. And it is the US Treasury, indeed, which is in charge of implementing and monitoring sanctions on behalf of the US government.
There are important implications to this move which will likely unfold in the next few weeks. Chief among them is the weakening of the moderate opposition in Iran, which hoped that the removal of the sanctions would usher in more public pressure for a regime change.
In the meantime, it seems that Washington is beginning to understand the sinister use made by the mullahs in Tehran with the money flowing in from the removal of the sanctions.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed
Al-Masry al-Youm, Egypt, December 20
This might sound like a rather strange question, because Egypt is already facing an ongoing war on terrorism posed by extremist organizations both within and outside its borders. But a few developments in the international arena suggest that Cairo might begin to assume a greater role in the campaign against Islamic State.
First and foremost, Saudi Arabia recently announced its plan to invest $8 billion in Egypt to help boost its economy.
There is reason to believe that this generous support was not given free of charge, as Riyadh expects Egypt to stand by its side in its battle against the Houthi rebels and Islamic State; if not in the actual deployment of forces, then at least on the intelligence and counterterrorism front.
Second, Russian President Vladimir Putin recently announced that Russian tourists would be allowed to return to Egypt as soon as local authorities provide the necessary security assurances needed to protect airport infrastructure.
This suggests that the Kremlin is interested in warming its ties with Cairo, which have been at an all-time low since the downing of the Russian airliner in Sinai earlier last month. Perhaps Moscow expects Cairo to assist in its air strike efforts in Syria.
Lastly, British authorities released a report linking the Muslim Brotherhood to terrorism. This provides President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s government with much-needed international backing to act against Brotherhood opposition at home. He has often been accused of forcefully suppressing his opposition, but such findings are likely to legitimize his government’s policies. This development will also likely make it easier for Egypt to allocate resources to a new front.
All in all, there is no doubt that for Egypt, to partake in this war effort would involve both interests and risks.
However, defeating Islamic State in the Levant would destroy the organization’s branches in Sinai, which pose a direct threat on Egyptian national security. Additionally, Cairo would send a clear message to the world that a terrorist organization claiming to act on behalf of all Muslims – targeting innocents in Syria, Iraq, France and the United States – is nothing more than a bunch of extremists attempting to hijack the Arab world.
Both goals are important, and both might drive Sisi’s government to take action. This will certainly be the president’s toughest decision to make, since assuming office in 2014.
– Abd al-Menaam Saeed
The Media Line