Hot off the Arab press 443074

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

Pro-government protester chants slogans while holding a poster of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as people gather in Alexandria, on the fifth anniversary of the uprising that ended the 30-year reign of Hosni Mubarak, on Monday (photo credit: REUTERS)
Pro-government protester chants slogans while holding a poster of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as people gather in Alexandria, on the fifth anniversary of the uprising that ended the 30-year reign of Hosni Mubarak, on Monday
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Iran – an insufficient effort
Al-Jarida, Jordan, January 22
Several news sources reported in recent days that the Iranian supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, denounced the burning of the Saudi Embassy in Tehran and described the assault as “offensive to Islam.” If these reports are true, then Pakistan – which mediated the talks between the Saudis and the Iranians – made an important accomplishment.
At the same time, there is still a long way to go before the relations between Riyadh and Tehran can improve. Any warming up of the ties between the two countries will require painstaking efforts.
It seems like Pakistan decided to intervene in the ongoing conflict between the two Middle Eastern behemoths after tensions reached an all-time high.
Islamabad views Saudi Arabia as a close regional ally, but is conscious of its proximity to Iran, with which it shares a long border. While the vast majority of Pakistan’s population is Sunni, it is also home to the largest Shi’ite community outside Iran. Therefore, there is no doubt that the supreme leader’s remarks – if proven correct – are an important milestone in Islamabad’s future role as a mediator in the region.
However, more must be done by Iran to make this reconciliation work. It must put an immediate end to its operations in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain.
It must abandon its nuclear aspirations. It must not engage in an oil-exporting war, in which it attempts to knock Riyadh out of the market by lowering gas prices to ridiculous levels. As the old saying says, “it takes two to tango.” Pakistan can be a very good mediator, but without Tehran’s good will, this effort will simply be insufficient.  – Saleh al-Kilab
Assad’s son is studying Russian
Al-Arabiya, Saudi Arabia, January 22
The fact that Russia is Syrian President Bashar Assad’s last standing lifeline is no secret. Moscow has gone to great lengths to protect Assad’s regime in the last couple of years. Its most recent assistance, in the form of an on-the-ground campaign on Syrian soil, has cost the Kremlin many lives and dollars. Interestingly, a close associate of Assad recently revealed that the relationship between the Syrian president and Moscow might be closer than it seems. The source disclosed that Assad’s eldest son, Hafez, has been sent to learn Russian in Moscow.
Since coming back to Syria, the 14-year-old boy has supposedly become fully conversational in Russian.
Meanwhile, his younger brother, who is only 11 years old, has been sent to a similar program in China. It is unclear why the Syrian president wants his children to speak Russian and Chinese – two languages that are barely spoken or used in Syria. The only places where Russian can still be used are former Soviet countries in the Middle East. Perhaps the president was only interested in sending his children away from the battle scenes of Damascus and simply used the language training programs as an excuse. – Ahed Fadel
The Iran deal and self-deception
Asharq Alawsat, London, January 22
The lifting of the nuclear sanctions from Iran offers a great opportunity to stop and evaluate the nuclear deal and its long-term prospects of success. One thing becomes evidently clear to anyone examining this agreement: Both sides – President Barack Obama and President Hassan Rouhani – were desperate to make gains at any cost. The details were not very important, nor were the technicalities on the ground. Obama wanted to be remembered as the president who stopped the Iranian bomb, while the mullahs in Tehran wanted to be remembered as those who freed their country from Western bondage. Both are absolutely wrong.
Iran has been subjected to numerous sanctions, only a small portion of which was imposed upon it for its nuclear program. The so-called “lifting of the sanctions” barely amounts to 40 percent of the total sanction package. Similarly, “blocking the Iranian bomb” – a slogan that Washington boasts at each and every occasion – amounts to nothing more than simply delaying Tehran’s nuclear program by several years. Iran will still be able to achieve a breakthrough within a year and develop a bomb through the enrichment of uranium or plutonium. To make the situation even worse, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is not a legally binding document. It was signed between two fictitious entities that do not exist in reality – the P5+1 (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States and Germany) on one hand, and Iran’s moderate representatives, on the other. Simply put, the celebrations surrounding the lifting of the sanctions are nothing more than an act of deception. – Amir Taheri
Saudi Arabia’s year of privatization
Al-Hayat, London, January 19
The opening of 2016 came with several announcements on plans to privatize key industries in the kingdom. A government spokesperson revealed that, within the next few months, all airports in Saudi Arabia would transition into private management, followed by the country’s entire technology industry.
With such sweeping changes implemented in the first weeks of the year, 2016 is likely to become Saudi’s year of privatization. However, we must take this news with a grain of salt.
Privatization, as any economics student will tell you, holds enormous benefits. However, it poses risks that are often overlooked. First, bureaucrats could easily hand government projects over to their cronies, paving the way for dreadful corruption. Without government supervision or oversight, many of Saudi Arabia’s leading national projects could suffer from unnecessary waste of money and delays. Crony capitalism would allow ministers to move into key management positions in the private market, and vice versa. Second, the private sector is not always more efficient than the public one, as is often claimed. I always use the example of the Dubai Municipality, which year after year receives accolades for its outstanding service standards and extremely efficient performance – despite being a governmental body. Third, if any of these privatized projects fail the government would be forced to jump in and save them from collapsing, by pouring immense amounts of money on them. Just imagine an international airport or a national communications company declaring bankruptcy. Have no doubt that it is taxpayers’ money that would be used to save the economy in such a case. – Abdallah Ibn Rabian