The aftermath of the Helsinki summit

Voices from the Arab Press weigh in on world events and how they effect the greater Middle East.

US PRESIDENT Donald Trump gestures during a joint news conference with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin after their meeting in Helsinki, Finland, July 2018 (photo credit: KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS)
US PRESIDENT Donald Trump gestures during a joint news conference with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin after their meeting in Helsinki, Finland, July 2018
Al-Hayat, London, July 17
Iraqi men and women have taken to the streets in the past few weeks to protest their dire living conditions and failed government.
Protests have been particularly violent in the southern part of the country, where international oil companies have been exploiting Iraq’s natural resources while refusing to invest money back in local communities.
Residents of cities like Najaf and Basra, who have had enough of power outages, water shortages, decrepit infrastructure and pervasive corruption, have reached a boiling point that pushed them into the streets. This boiling point was literal, given the average daily temperature of 37.8º, coupled with the lack of readily available water in most local homes.
The unfortunate reality in Iraq today is that the country is governed by an elitist class beholden to Iran. Members of this class are completely detached from the people they claim to represent. They live in secluded residential compounds, maintain vacation homes abroad, and gain wealth by selling Iraq’s resources to the highest bidder.
Although it was once celebrated as a country that removed its longtime dictator from power, defeated Islamic State and held its first-ever free and fair democratic elections in several decades, Iraq remains far from a success story. It is a country in a state of utter disrepair.
The only glimmer of hope comes from witnessing the similar protests unfolding in both Iraq and Iran at the same time. Iraqi protesters managed to block the Najaf airport and take over the offices of political parties associated with Iran. They blocked roads leading to oil factories and managed to halt oil exports from the southern part of the country.
Similarly, Iranian cities have seen widespread protests against the regime in Tehran. The Iranians, too, are fed up with a ruling class that is detached from the people.
Whether what we’re witnessing in Iraq will amount to a full-fledged revolution remains to be seen. But in the meantime, Iraq’s Shi’ite population is sending a clear message to its representatives: There will be no prosperity in Baghdad until there is prosperity in Basra. – Hazem al-Amin
Al-Ittihad, UAE, July 21
The US Congress is weighing the decision to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist entity. According to several sources in Washington, this topic has been rather contentious. Republicans in Congress have reportedly been in favor of the decision, while Democrats expressed more reservations about recognizing the Brotherhood as a terrorist movement.
In my mind, the failure to understand the dangers and risks posed by the Brotherhood to international security in general, and America’s security in particular, is a direct failure of America’s liberals.
These Democratic lawmakers, plagued by the innocent Obama worldview, rely on two excuses to explain their opposition to this move. First, they argue, the Muslim Brotherhood abandoned terrorism in the early 1970s. Second, they claim, some countries, such as Qatar and Turkey, are home to large political parties affiliated, to varying degrees, with the Brotherhood.
Both of these arguments, in my perspective, are flawed.
Regarding the first: recognizing – or, rather, hoping – that a certain movement abandoned terrorism involves admitting to the fact that this very movement was engaged in terrorism in the first place. There is little, if any, evidence to suggest that the Brotherhood really abandoned its radical ways. However, there is clear indication that many global terrorist networks, including ones that exist today, have been directly supported and financed by the Brotherhood. This should be enough to place it under close surveillance.
The second claim is even more troubling. Instead of demanding that America’s allies distance themselves from radical groups, these lawmakers trivialize parties that support terrorism, encourage violence against Western targets and spew hatred of America. The fact that there are Brotherhood-backed parties in some parts of the world is not a reason to legitimize and normalize ties with the movement.
Rather, it is a red flag that serves as an ever greater motivation to confront it.
Sadly, there seems to be a clear failure to understand this reality in Washington.
It is therefore our duty, as citizens of the Arab world, to make our voices heard. We must lobby lawmakers in the US and help them understand how foolish their decision is. Things that we see on the ground are very different from what they might be hearing or seeing from their ivory tower in Washington, DC. We must act to protect our interests, both at home and abroad. – Abdallah al-Otaibi
Al-Arabiya, Saudi Arabia, July 21
Let this be clear: there can be no political solution in Yemen that allows the Houthis to keep their weapons. Anyone who reads history and knows anything about Middle East politics will understand this.
The first thing that comes to mind is the Taif Agreement of 1989, which put an end to the Lebanese civil war. Rafik Hariri, who was the architect of the agreement, capitulated to Syrian pressure while penning the agreement, allowing Hezbollah to maintain its weapons in Lebanon.
These weapons eventually enabled the movement to destroy Lebanon, and paved its path to the center of Lebanese politics. Today, Hezbollah is the most dominant party in Lebanon. It exerts direct power over the president, the speaker of the parliament, and the prime minister. And it takes direct orders from Iran.
Now imagine the same situation happening with the Houthis in Yemen. How can we ever allow this to happen? Indeed, this is the exact path that Tehran is interested in paving for the Houthis. It seeks to promote a cease-fire agreement that would empower the Houthis and allow them to take over Yemen through the use of force and intimidation.
This is a scenario that neither Saudi Arabia nor the UAE can allow. Both nations would be much better off continuing their fighting than accepting a new reality in which Iran – via its Houthi militias – is establishing a presence in their backyards.
Finally, the demand to disarm the Houthi militias is more plausible today than ever before. Qatar – perhaps the Houthis’ largest supporter in the Gulf – is facing severe financial setbacks due to the embargo imposed on it by its neighbors.
Similarly, Iran is facing both internal and external political upheaval. And the Houthis, too, have been dealt a striking blow in several of their recent battles, including in their stronghold of Hodeidah.
Therefore, now is the time to maintain the pressure and tighten the noose around their necks. They must be clearly told: Disarm now, or continue fighting and face a crushing defeat. – Mohammed al-Shaikh
Asharq al-Awsat, London, July 20
Last week, all eyes were set to Helsinki, where US President Donald Trump met with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, to discuss the relationship between Washington and Moscow. Both sides continue, in the aftermath of the event, to shape the narrative of the summit in ways that best meet their nations’ needs. However, they are not the only ones looking back at the summit and analyzing its repercussions.
In Tehran, President Hassan Rouhani closely followed the two leaders’ press conference. He could afford a smile after hearing Putin reaffirm Russia’s commitment to the nuclear deal and his praise of Iran’s attempt to salvage the agreement together with the EU. The Iranian president likely got less comfortable when the two leaders mentioned Syria and Israel in their remarks, suggesting that Iran will have to withdraw all of its forces from the Israeli border.
Another individual who closely followed the events in Finland is Syrian President Bashar Assad. He, too, could afford a sigh of relief. After years of fighting his opposition, Assad finally managed to secure his position as the legitimate ruler of Syria. Washington accepted, even if tacitly, the Russian plan for Syria, which includes the protection of Assad’s regime.
In Tel Aviv, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also kept an eye out for news from Helsinki. Perhaps more than any other leader in the world, he emerged as the true winner of this summit, as both Putin and Trump assured him that they would protect his country’s security interests within any framework in Syria.
On the flip side of this equation, the two biggest losers of the summit are Turkey and the Kurds. Turkish Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan hoped to see his Syrian counterpart, Assad, go home. This will clearly not be the case. The Kurds, meanwhile, realize that they were manipulated. When the international community needed their help in fighting Islamic State, Kurdish militias were promised support and backing in their quest for independence. Now, following the defeat of Islamic State, Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani has quickly learned that the dream of turning Iraqi Kurdistan into an independent state will have to wait for now.
Only time will tell how successful Washington and Moscow will be at repairing their damaged relations. One thing remains clear: The agreements reached between Trump and Putin in Helsinki will have implications for nearly every country in the region. – Ghassan Charbel