Voices from the Arab Press: The Arab world and the Pakistani issue

This enabled the new Pakistani Prime Minister, Imran Khan, to overcome the serious financial crisis he faced when he came to power last August.

PAKISTANI PRESIDENT Arif Alvi (left) bestows his country’s highest civil award, Nishan-e-Pakistan, to Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the President House in Islamabad on February 18. (photo credit: REUTERS)
PAKISTANI PRESIDENT Arif Alvi (left) bestows his country’s highest civil award, Nishan-e-Pakistan, to Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the President House in Islamabad on February 18.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The UAE made an important diplomatic achievement last week by helping contain the severe crisis that unfolded between India and Pakistan. The intervention of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, played a pivotal role in saving South Asia from a devastating and imminent conflict. The successful UAE move followed an important visit by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman to Pakistan, which resulted in the signing of economic agreements worth 20 billion dollars and the increase in Riyadh’s loans to Islamabad.

This enabled the new Pakistani Prime Minister, Imran Khan, to overcome the serious financial crisis he faced when he came to power last August. It is clear that the Saudi-Emirati approach to support Pakistan falls within the vital Arab interest in a stronger relationship with the great Asian Islamic power situated in the midst of the Eurasian sphere. While Pakistan’s regional conflict with India has been the focus of its foreign policy, Islamabad has oscillated between two distinct camps: the US, on one hand, and China, on the other.

The US war on terrorism gradually led to a quagmire of regional crises and pushed Pakistan closer to the latter. Hence, we see the importance of the Pakistani component in the new Silk Road, which China has developed. The Pakistani corridor is a crucial bridge between land and sea routes in Eurasia. The Arab embrace of Pakistan is meant to strengthen Islamabad and ensure the government’s stability. This means encouraging the country’s moderate political forces that are currently led by Prime Minister Khan to continue working to rehabilitate the Pakistani economy and play a vital role among south Asian countries. It also means doing everything we can to contain Pakistan’s long-standing dispute with India, which remains an essential and indispensable ally of all Gulf countries – and the Arab world more broadly. – Ould Abah



Al-Araby al-Jadeed, London, February 27

A lot has been said and written about the political legacy of Rabbi Meir Kahane and his impact on Israeli politics. Kahane’s party, “Jewish Power,” has recently returned to the fore, after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu invited its members to join the coalition he is forming. As a reminder, Kahane was the founder of the Jewish Defense League and the Kach fascist gang, which soon became banned under Israeli law. He served as a deputy in the 11th Knesset. In 1988, his electoral list was removed and was prevented from running in the Israeli general election on the grounds that it was racist.

In this context, I have already cited in my previous writings an Israeli academic study published in 2002, which concluded that the roots of Kahane’s blatant racism are deeply embedded in Israeli society, and that right-wing extremism is not an anomaly among Zionist politicians. This is true of political movements in Israel today, as well as in political parties prior to 1948, including the Revisionist Movement led by Ze’ev Jabotinsky, which was influenced to a large degree by fascism in Europe. The occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in 1967 re-paved the path for the emergence of this worldview and brought it to the center stage of Israeli politics. It is at this point that we saw the birth of extremist Israeli parties like Tzomet and Moledet.

The study was based on a public opinion poll showing support for Kach’s extremist ideas – such as forcefully displacing Palestinians and initiating attacks against them – among Jewish voters, including those who consider themselves in the leftist Meretz Party. It is therefore important to interpret the significance of Netanyahu’s embrace of the Kahane gang not only in terms of its implications on Palestinians, but also in terms of its implication on Israeli domestic politics. When the “Jewish Power” Party raises the banner of “Kahane was right” it is not only making a statement against Palestinians, but also against secular and liberal Israelis. According to the party, Israel should be an Orthodox state based on the pure superiority of the Jewish race.

The problem with Israel is that it seeks to balance a modern state that is secular, rational and effectively organized with antiquated and obsolete traditions adopted from Jewish religious life in the Diaspora. The result is a consistent fear and hatred of Arabs using a religious pretext. Racism, therefore, is deeply embedded within the Jewish state.

– Antoine Shalhat


Al-Sharq al-Awsat, London, March 4

The difference between the demonstrations that are currently unfolding in Algeria and those unfolding in Sudan is the nature of the challenge to the political system.

In Sudan, President Omar al-Bashir is synonymous with the regime. In Algeria, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is the head of government. If Bouteflika leaves his post – as a result of a public uprising or quarrel with the military – this departure will be a perceived as his resignation from power. But in Khartoum, the desired political change is comprehensive.

The Sudanese people want to reform and revolutionize their entire political system; not just their head of government. Therefore, change in Sudan will be achieved only through violence, resulting in a bloodbath that could be akin to what we’re seeing in Syria today. However, presidential change in Algeria is possible and will not have much impact on the state. President Bouteflika is a distinguished national figure, respected by the older generation. But today, most of Algeria’s 40 million people are young and  do not care about their nation’s elder leaders. The insistence to push forwards Bouteflika’s candidacy for the fifth time in a row is a bad idea. He has been president of Algeria since 1999.

It is time for him to clear his spot for a young leader who will march forward. This reminds me of what happened to the great historic Tunisian president, Habib Bourguiba: his insistence on staying in the president’s office led to his subsequent ousting by Interior Minister Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 1987 and the end of the country’s civil rule. We don’t want this to happen to Bouteflika.

The regime in Algeria is strong, much like the regime in Egypt, and is based on a strong military establishment, which is the backbone of the state. Changes cannot occur without the latter’s approval. The military will intervene if it feels that there is a danger to the stability of the country. The prolongment of this presidential crisis will only send more Algerians to the streets. The relationship between the various political parties will be shaken and political divisions will widen. Civil strife will be exacerbated. This will be bad for the nation.

The region around Algeria is ablaze: Sudan is in serious turmoil, Libya is in a bloody eight-year war, and Tunisia has been consistently unstable. Therefore, all eyes are set on Algeria right now. As the largest country in Africa and the key to the stability in north and central Africa, Algeria is a top priority not only for the region, but also for Europe. Algeria is bigger than Bouteflika. He must step down with honor and dignity and allow a successor to take his place.

– Abd al-Rahman al-Rashed



Al-Aharam, Egypt, February 19

For well over a decade, Americans have been talking about the need to take care of the so-called “Asian challenge.” This challenge is twofold: first, the economic advancement of India and China and its rivalry with the United States and, second, the strategic transformation that the Chinese have been making for two decades, independently of the US, and what it means in the global arena.

In the recent military confrontation between India and Pakistan, the Americans found themselves siding with the Indians, while the Pakistanis found themselves closer to China. US diplomats and military officials have regretted their relationship with Pakistan, given the latter’s lack of cooperation in the global war on terrorism and the shelter it gave to many al-Qaeda militants. However, changing geopolitical interests in the region are now pushing America back towards Pakistan.

There is the new American perception that Pakistan is an integral and crucial component of the global competition between the US and China. However, Trump has already made clear his plan to disengage from the Middle East. Is there an inherent contradiction between America being in the Middle East and America being in the Far East at the same time? Of course not. But the American presence in both arenas introduces new rivalries to the region, not only in military strength but also in terms of economic power. Washington will have to prove itself as a reliable ally. This is becoming increasingly difficult for Washington to do, as more countries around the world begin questioning America’s resolve.

The Americans continue to abide by the idea of US hegemony and exceptionalism, but a growing number of Americans are questioning this narrative. Put another way: Americans insist that nothing has changed and that they are still the strongest country in the world, while its opponents, and even some of its allies, insist that US economic superiority is no longer guaranteed and that its military superiority is simply not enough to promote US interests on the ground.

– Khalil al-Anani