Voices from the Arab press

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

Britain's Employment Minister Priti Patel (photo credit: REUTERS/TOBY MELVILLE)
Britain's Employment Minister Priti Patel
Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, London, November 7
“The dramatic resignation last week of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri left many around the world, and certainly in Lebanon, with several unanswered questions.
“The move came as a complete surprise to even the most avid observers of Lebanese politics. Just a day before the resignation, while still in Beirut, Hariri held a conference that celebrated his government’s achievements. And in his media appearances in the preceding weeks, the Lebanese premier sounded optimistic about his country’s future, showing no signs of frustration nor giving any indication he wanted to step down. Then, without warning, he traveled to Saudi Arabia and announced his resignation via satellite television. An official letter addressed to Lebanon’s president was issued shortly thereafter. Since then, Hariri has not returned home. The obvious question, therefore, is what prompted all of this?
“Internally, Hariri expended all of his political capital in forming a coalition with Shi’ite Hezbollah, which paved the way for the election of President Michel Aoun after a 29-month deadlock left the position unfilled. In the aftermath, however, Hariri has not been able to achieve any political successes, whereas his submission to Hezbollah has enhanced Iran’s influence in Lebanon. Hariri’s previously strong support base, primarily comprising Lebanese Sunni Muslims, has gone so far as to accuse the prime minister of abandoning Sunni interests in favor of ‘national unity.’
“But there is another factor at play. Saudi Arabia was directly involved in Hariri’s decision to resign, as the kingdom has long viewed Tehran as a growing threat to the region whose influence in Lebanon had to be nipped in the bud. By pushing Hariri to step down from Riyadh, the Saudis sent a clear message to Hezbollah: side with either Iran or Lebanon. If Hezbollah parliamentarians are interested in seeing their political system collapse then they will continue taking orders from the Islamic Republic; however, if the country’s stability is more important to them, then they will have to make big concessions. There are other options on the table as well. One scenario might involve a Saudi-led coalition that would fight to dismantle Hezbollah’s foothold in Lebanon, a move that might even involve Israel.
“Overall, there are many unknowns. We do not know what will become of Lebanon over the next few days, let alone weeks and years. Regardless, it is clear that the political turmoil in Beirut is a direct result of the ongoing confrontation between Saudi Arabia and Iran, this time being played out in the Lebanese playground.”
– Wael Najim
Al-Watan, Qatar, November 8
“The man of the hour in Saudi Arabia is indisputably Mohammed bin Salman, who is not only the crown prince but also the kingdom’s defense minister. While he received the former title just five months ago when his father, King Salman, removed from power the previous heir to the throne, the prince assumed his role as minister almost two years ago.
“Still, bin Salman lacks experience and remains an amateur statesman lacking the capacity to plan successful military operations. Since his very first days in office, the future king pursued an aggressive foreign policy that diverged greatly from that of his predecessors. He began his term by launching an attack against the Houthi rebels in Yemen, a campaign that was designed to last only a few weeks but is nowhere close to ending.
“Bin Salman is also the architect of the recent Gulf embargo on Qatar. Whereby he initially maintained close ties with Doha, with the aim of coordinating activities against Iran, after receiving new orders from Washington the young defense minister reversed his policy and began speaking out against Qatar. He accused Doha of collaborating with radical forces in the region and called on Gulf countries to boycott the country.
“Now, in his most recent display of incompetence, bin Salman appears to have been involved in the Lebanese prime minister’s decision to step down from office, a move that did nothing but spread confusion in the region. The people of the Middle East are thus awaiting his next move. No one knows with certainty what such action may entail, but one thing is for sure: it will be closely coordinated with Israel and the United States.
“Accordingly, a novice minister in Riyadh is coordinating with another novice president in the White House. In between them is a racist Israeli leader. Nothing good can come from this.”
– Jelbir al-Ashkar
Al-Masry al-Youm, Egypt, November 9
“Last week, Britain’s international aid minister Priti Patel stepped down after admitting that she had secretly met with Israeli officials during a private holiday abroad. Patel kept her meetings off the books, conveying information about them to neither her own colleagues nor to the British Foreign Office.
“But what is more interesting about her resignation is what it reveals about the Israeli government’s strategy; first, to demonize the Palestinians and second to mask its actions by pursuing ‘grassroots’ peace initiatives.
A core focus of Patel’s was to fight alleged incite ment in Palestinian textbooks. Under her leadership, the British Ministry of International Development threatened to withhold funding earmarked for Palestinian institutions unless the Palestinian Authority ceased its payments to prisoners in Israeli jails. It also demanded a review of Palestinian school curricula being funded with British money.
“In doing so, Patel drew a moral equivalence between Israel’s brutal occupation of Palestinian lands and the content of Palestinian books – as if the two were equal. Israel’s refusal to allow the formation of an independent Palestinian state in any form has been trivialized by placing blame on Palestinian incitement.
“Additionally, in order to silence European critics who are concerned by the status quo, Israel has relied on offices like the one run by Patel to fund local peace programs between Jews and Arabs, which looks great on paper (and in photos) but does nothing to end the occupation. Instead, they divert attention away from the racist policies of the Israeli government.
“Patel was a big supporter of such programs and, coupled with pressure from the Israel lobby, she helped mask Israel’s brutal oppression of the Palestinians. Her departure is a true triumph for the Palestinians and all those who promote human rights.”
– Muhammad al-Ramihi
Asharq al-Awsat, London, November 12
“A cease-fire in Syria is only the first step in a likely chain of events that will unfold in our region, some of which are very alarming.
“In their recent meeting held on the sidelines of the APEC summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump both agreed that the military option failed terribly in Syria and that the only way to end the civil war is through an internationally imposed deal on all parties. This is exactly what we should expect to see within the next few weeks and months: a slow but steady cessation of hostilities between all factions – from Al-Nusra to ISIS to Assad’s forces – along with an increased presence of Russian, American and Turkish forces near Syria’s borders.
“While the cease-fire is, in and of itself, a welcome development, it completely fails to take into account the reality that will emerge on the ground once the fighting ends. Over the past few months, Iranian forces have established more and more military bases in areas that were once controlled by the Assad regime, in an attempt to create facts on the ground. Satellite images show Iranian installations just 50 kilometers away from the Israeli border. Hezbollah fighters have similarly entrenched their positions in the Syrian Golan Heights, which poses an immediate threat to Israel in addition to the existing front in southern Lebanon.
“Jordan, which also shares a border with Syria, would have had equal reason for concern if not for American air strikes that have pushed Iranian forces away from the Jordanian border in recent months. Clearly, no one – not even the Israelis – correctly assessed the degree of Iran’s penetration into Syria. Now, as the fighting draws to an end, the real – and concerning – picture will become vivid: Syria has turned into an Iranian satellite, from which Tehran can conduct military operations against a wide range of targets. This new reality is a dangerous one and it is unlikely that a cease-fire deal will remedy this.
“The next few months and years, therefore, could bring even more trouble to the region, this time with Israel being dragged into the war.”
– Abdulrahman al-Rashed