Voices From the Arab Press: Mohammad Bin Salman’s Failed Attempt To Win Prestige

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

ACTIVISTS STAGE a protest timed to coincide with the visit by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, also mocking British Prime Minister Theresa May, outside Parliament in London on March 7. (photo credit: REUTERS)
ACTIVISTS STAGE a protest timed to coincide with the visit by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, also mocking British Prime Minister Theresa May, outside Parliament in London on March 7.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Mohammad Bin Salman’s Failed Attempt To Win Prestige
Al Jazeera, Qatar, August 29
Like many of his predecessors, Mohammad Bin Salman, the Saudi Crown Prince, has spent considerable effort preparing himself for the throne that he will one day inherit. To this end, he spent the past two years taking a more active role in managing the kingdom’s affairs, particularly in the realm of foreign policy. Over the past year, he has become the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia. But while he tried to position himself as a political visionary, Bin Salman promoted initiatives that have dismally failed.
First, he launched a rash war on Yemen that has implicated Saudi Arabia and its allies in the Gulf in a dangerous and prolonged campaign with no end in sight. The 33-year-old prince believed that he could defeat the Houthi militias and restore the rule of ousted president Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi within just a few weeks. More than three years later, after more than 13,000 innocent civilians lost their lives in Yemen as a result of this campaign, the Houthi militias continue to endure and strengthen their foothold in Yemen.
Second, in Lebanon, Bin Salman hoped to curtail Hezbollah’s influence in local politics. By exerting pressure on Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, who holds dual Lebanese-Saudi citizenship, Bin Salman hoped to convince the Lebanese government to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist group and ban it from parliament. This move not merely failed, but actually backfired against Bin Salman. During the most recent parliamentary elections held in Lebanon in May, Hezbollah succeeded in boosting its clout by significantly expanding its share of seats in the legislature. In fact, Hariri now depends on Hezbollah for his political survival.
Third, and perhaps most important, Bin Salman miserably failed to understand the situation in Syria. For months, he poured copious sums of money into funding and training Syrian opposition forces, only to witness them get crushed by Bashar Assad’s regime. Today, in an attempt to hide this deep humiliation, Saudi Arabia joined a long list of countries that called on Vladimir Putin and Assad to end the bloodshed in Syria through a permanent ceasefire.
Salman’s only success to date has been on his country’s relations with the United States. The Crown Prince took advantage of US President Donald Trump’s rise to power in order to restore the kingdom’s ties with America. Bin Salman managed to sign a few trade and military deals with his American counterparts, and even gained Washington’s backing in crowning Riyadh a so-called leader of the Arab world.
Yet this has done little to promote Bin Salman’s prestige anywhere outside the corridors of the White House. Under Bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy has been a chain of failed projects that only ended up weakening the Crown Prince, empowering his enemies, and strengthening Israel’s stance in the region.
– Udnan abu Ammar
Libya caught in the midst of French-Italian brawl
Al-Ittihad, UAE, August 29
France and Italy currently represent absolutely contradicting strides within the European political arena. Italy has recently emerged from elections that brought to power a right-wing government dominated by an anti-EU and anti-immigrant platform. France, meanwhile, is often cited as the EU’s last remaining hope for stability and concord, given President Emmanuel Macron’s extensive effort to promote cooperation and unity among EU member states.
The growing tensions between two polar opposite political forces has most recently been manifested in Libya, where both France and Italy see themselves as vital players in the local political arena. France already hosted a high-profile Libya summit this past spring, where it committed itself to overseeing Libya’s first democratic elections by the end of 2018. Italian representatives weren’t invited to participate in the talks. In retaliation, the Italian ambassador to Libya gave extensive interviews to local media outlets, where he called to postpone the elections by a few months, describing France’s actions as “rash” and “hasty.”
In addition, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who entered office only two months ago, made a special trip to Washington to receive President Trump’s official blessing on this issue. In a joint press conference held by the two leaders, Trump described Italy as a “crucial player in the stability of Libya” and thanked his Italian counterpart for taking the lead on this issue.
Make no mistake: While both France and Italy continue to make claims about democratic and economic reforms in Libya, this internal European brawl is far from altruistic. Italy views itself as the ultimate arbitrator of Libyan affairs due to its prolonged colonial rule in the country, which began in 1910 and ended only in 1947. France, by contrast, had taken the lead on the 2011 military campaign to bring down the Gaddafi regime, which included an aggressive campaign of air strikes across the country. Since then, Paris views itself as a stakeholder in Libyan affairs.
Most importantly, both countries have vested financial interests in Tripoli, since Libyan oil imports account for about a quarter of their respective oil consumption. Unfortunately, caught in the midst of this fight over custody is the ill-treated child, Libya, which just wants to put its violent past behind and start anew. Instead of providing the Libyan people with a right to voice their wishes and desires, France and Italy are calling the shots for their puppets in Tripoli. The two countries are engaging in modern-day colonialism to promote their own internal interests, not those of the Libyan people.
– Hasan al-Rahman
Basra’s water crisis and the failure of the government in Baghdad
Al Jazeera, Qatar, August 29
The Iraqi province of Basra is now headed into its second week of a grave health crisis, after more than 17,000 citizens have been admitted to hospitals with water poisoning. Despite being one of the oil-richest provinces in Iraq, exporting a record high of 3.5 million barrels a day, Basra remains one of the financially poorest regions in the country.
Foreign oil companies that have set up their plants in the region made billions of dollars from the exploitation of Iraqi natural resources, yet have done nothing to invest capital back into local communities. While their workers, all holding foreign passports, rely on an independent supply of water and electricity, Iraq’s residents living in their vicinity just a few miles away, suffer from decrepit roads, nonexistent septic systems, haphazard power supply and dysfunctional water lines.
Plagued by inescapable corruption and fraud, the central government in Baghdad has done little to address this situation. In the wake of such neglect, a serious health crisis of this magnitude was only a matter of time. Given the scant resources available to treat these conditions, local authorities in Basra fear an even larger outbreak of this crisis. Physicians at Basra’s central hospital, many of whom haven’t received their pay in months, have voiced concerns that while all admitted patients have received treatment, the faltering health system will not be able to cope with the situation for much longer. The ultimate fear is of the outbreak of cholera, which would lead to thousands of deaths and an even greater number of hospitalizations.
Thus, local officials have called upon authorities in Iraq’s Ministry of Water Resources to investigate the source of contamination in the region and to appropriate immediate resources necessary to fixing the polluted infrastructure in the province. Sadly, Iraqi government officials quickly deflected responsibility away from their own offices and onto the shoulder of foreign oil companies. This evasion from responsibility will cost many innocent Iraqis their lives. It’s time to act, before it’s too late.
– Mustafa Faturi
An Impeding Massacre In Idlib
Asharq al-Awsat, London, September 1
Just like in a suspenseful game of chess, the Syrian Civil War has come down to a final act between the two remaining players on the game board: Assad’s forces backed by Russia on one hand, and Al-Nusra Front and its affiliate militias, on the other.
This battle, however, has largely been predetermined. Thousands of Assad troops are awaiting an order to storm Idlib, where the outnumbered Islamist forces are located. In addition to the support provided to them by Russian fighter jets and cruise ships, Assad’s troops have the advantage of fighting alongside skillful Iranian militias. Therefore, it is only a matter of time until they take over the last remaining bastion of the Syrian opposition in Idlib.
These two sides – Assad’s forces and the Islamists – are the very same sides that brought destruction upon Syria during the past seven years of fighting. They empowered each other: The Islamist rebels portrayed Assad as a lawful leader in the eyes of many nations around the world, and thus provided him with much-needed legitimacy. Assad, meanwhile, slaughtered thousands of his citizens, making it easy for these extremist organizations to recruit new members into their ranks. And while the two camps preferred to refrain from direct confrontation to date, now, following the defeat of the Free Syrian Army, there is no one else left on the battlefield.
This ultimate confrontation has become inevitable. What is important for us to remember is that other than serving as a base for these jihadist forces, Idlib is home to over three million innocent civilians. Many of them are displaced Syrians who had already been forced to flee their homes in Syria. Sadly, Assad’s and Russia’s previous modus operandi raise deep concern about the fate of these citizens. We have already seen the Syrian regime use chemical weapons against civilian targets, alongside indiscriminate areal bombings. What is currently unfolding in Idlib might become the largest massacre in the Syrian civil war to date. It would be a gruesome way to end this bloody conflict, and world leaders must do whatever they can to prevent Assad from unleashing carnage against his own people. This might suit Assad’s needs very well, but it would be a humanitarian disaster unlike any other.
The world has failed to act in defense of the Syrian people too many times in the past few years. Now is the time to prove that Syrian lives are truly sacred in the eyes of Western leaders.
–Abd al-Rahman al-Rashed