Voices from the Arab press: Egypt's collective interest

Our main problem today is that we misunderstand the meaning of democracy.

US Vice President Mike Pence prays at the Western Wall (photo credit: YANIR COZIN / MAARIV)
US Vice President Mike Pence prays at the Western Wall
(photo credit: YANIR COZIN / MAARIV)
Al-Araby al-Jadeed, London, January 25
Seven years have passed since the people of Egypt took to the streets and brought an end to Hosni Mubarak’s corrupt regime. Seven years of hope and faith coupled with violence and bloodshed. Seven years in which we, the Egyptian people, have continued to point fingers at each other and failed to establish the democracy of which we dreamed.
Our main problem today is that we misunderstand the meaning of democracy. Democracy is not simply about holding free and fair elections. It is also about protecting the rights of minorities. It is about cultivating a strong civil society. It is about ensuring free speech for all.
Unfortunately, these are the very aspects of our society that we, in Egypt, have neglected. Without them no transition into democracy will ever be achieved. Democracy, at its core, rests on the shoulders of millions of people. But we have mistakenly promulgated the belief that it can be promoted by the hands of a few elites. Instead of holding hands and fighting against tyranny and oppression, our opposition groups have been waging fierce wars against each other, vying over social and political capital.
This strategy hasn’t gotten us far. We live in a world that is becoming increasingly less and less democratic. We are part of a region that is facing severe human rights abuses on a daily basis. We are participating in a global economy that restricts our freedom and our opportunities to grow. These are all difficult components of our reality, and we must begin to recognize them if we want to see change take place. True democratic reforms only take place when interest groups agree to put their own benefit aside.
This includes noble groups fighting for a lively civil society. We must not let those who seek to liberate us adopt the behavior of our biggest oppressors.
– Alaa al-Bayoumi
Al Arabiya, Saudi Arabia, January 26
When US President Donald Trump entered office a year ago, he vowed to completely depart from his predecessor’s Middle East foreign policy and immediately began to restore America’s strategic partnerships in the region. While still on the campaign trail, Trump warned Iran’s leaders that he would nix, or at the very least amend, the nuclear deal signed with Obama if the mullahs continue their country’s armed involvement in places like Syria, Iraq and Yemen.
Trump has since worked tirelessly to taper Iran’s growing involvement in the region and he has been loyal to his campaign promises. He recently dispatched Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to Europe, in order to hold close conversations with his European counterparts on the growing threats posed by Iran to the free world. Trump also boosted the military support provided by the US to Saudi Arabia, particularly in its effort to defeat the Houthi militias sitting on its borders.
He completely rewrote the equation set by Obama, who not only abandoned his closest allies in the Middle East, but also empowered the most destructive forces in the region. Indeed, a recent investigation revealed that Obama’s team turned a blind eye to an international money-laundering network operated by Hezbollah – just to appease the Iranians and protect the deal with them.
To those who have had the chance to see both Trump and Obama in action, the current American agenda is refreshing. Trump has been unwavering in his effort to restore America’s priorities in the Middle East. He is sending a clear message to evil forces like Iran and Hezbollah that there is no such thing as a free lunch: if they undermine America’s power, they will pay the price for it. One year into Trump’s presidency, we must all be thankful for this unequivocal message, his moral conviction, and his steadfast support for those who have been neglected by Obama.
– Mashry al-Zaidi
Al-Khaleej Al-Jadeed, UAE, January 25
As US Vice President Mike Pence concludes his visits to the Middle East, it remains unclear what brought the American leader to the region in the first place. Was the purpose of his visit to promote dialogue between the Israelis and the Palestinians? Were his meetings in Egypt and Jordan an attempt to bridge the growing divides between these countries and his own?
Unfortunately, the answer is no. Pence arrived in the Middle East at the order of his boss, President Trump. The purpose of the visit was to continue to strengthen Israel at the expense of the Palestinian people. Pence – just like Trump’s special representative for international negotiations Jason Greenblatt, his ambassador to Israel David Friedman, and son-in-law Jared Kushner – is a staunch Zionist.
Unlike them, however, he is an Evangelical Christian. In simple terms, his support for Israel stems from a strict belief that the gathering of the Jews in Israel is a prerequisite for the second coming of Christ. Much of this rhetoric has actually fueled antisemitic sentiments throughout the years, but to the Israelis, all of this doesn’t matter at the moment. For the time being, they hold the upper hand and enjoy the support of a ruthless American administration that provides them with carte blanche to act however they wish.
Pence invested extra effort into appeasing his Israeli patrons: he did not just visit Israel, but became the first American vice president to address the Israeli parliament, as well as the first to visit the Buraq Wall. While in the country, he restated America’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Most importantly, he met with Arab leaders and re-normalized America’s ties with them. In doing so, Pence, together with his Israeli allies, succeeded in making Trump’s Jerusalem announcement a non-issue. Indeed, they have managed to stealthily establish facts on the ground.
The Israelis gained everything they could have asked for: they won Jerusalem, they avoided a Palestinian intifada, and they have been put on the path to establishing diplomatic ties with the Sunni Arab world. As always, the ultimate victims of this political disaster are the people of Palestine. Once again, they are left between a rock and a hard place.
– Yasser al-Zaatra
Akhbar al Khaleej, Bahrain, January 27
While new leaks from the White House have recently garnered international headlines – in particular the events described in Michael Wolff’s book Fire and Fury – the brawl between the American media and the American president is nothing new. Indeed, it long preceded Trump’s entrance into the White House.
The animosity between the two sides already began on the campaign trail, when leading news commentators and political pundits ridiculed and mocked then-candidate Donald Trump for being incompetent. But truth be told, Trump outsmarted the media. Before the media could defeat him, Trump managed to launch a preemptive attack and undermine the legitimacy and credibility of the entire American news establishment, mostly by associating it with the old and corrupt Washington establishment. This move has been nothing short of brilliant.
Today, the American media have made it a point to air Trump’s dirty laundry at every possible opportunity. The ultimate goal here is to bring his impeachment or, at the very least, destroy his public image by the time the 2020 presidential elections roll around.
But the media have gotten it wrong once again. The more they lock their horns with the White House, the more popular Trump becomes. Therefore, at this point, it makes absolutely no sense for the American president to make peace with the media. While Trump serves the interest of journalists and talk-show hosts, they serve his.
So what does this mean to us? The most important thing we have to remember is not to believe everything we hear on the news. Just like Trump is guided by a certain agenda, so are the American papers and television channels. Secondly, we must remember that the American media are the very same media that so fervently supported President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran. It is also the same establishment that so vehemently stood behind the former American president when he decided to refrain from intervening in the Syrian civil war.
So when we come to look at the current situation in the United States, we must keep in mind that there is no absolute right and wrong. The only thing that should matter to us is how America’s policy toward the Middle East might change. Until any such change is visible, we should treat the scuffle between Trump and the press as nothing more than a game of sports we can amusingly watch on television.
They target him as he targets them, and the cycle continues on and on.
– Mamduh al-Miheini