Voices from the Arab Press: The face of the airport, the face of a nation

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

AT BEIRUT-RAFIC Hariri International Airport. (photo credit: REUTERS)
AT BEIRUT-RAFIC Hariri International Airport.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Asharq Al-Awsat, Saudi Arabia, October 2
Earlier this week, the American news channel Fox News reported that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards made use of the Beirut-Rafic Hariri International Airport to smuggle weapons and money to Hezbollah. The report identified two unusual flights on the Damascus-Beirut route that had been carried out by a fake Iranian airline flying on behalf of the Quds Force. The US channel further provided locations and timetables of the suspicious flights.
So far, the Lebanese directorate of civil aviation confirmed the existence of these flights, but denied the claim that they were used to transport munitions. Fox News, however, wasn’t alone in making this claim. In the last week of September, during his speech to the UN General Assembly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed that Israel had accumulated evidence showing that Iran is helping Hezbollah develop accurate missiles pointed at Israeli towns and cities. Netanyahu presented photos of the locations in which these missiles are supposedly stored and noted their curiously close proximity to Beirut’s international airport.
It is obviously impossible to validate the Israeli accusations, just as it is impossible to trust Hezbollah’s narrative. Yet we now know that Hezbollah spent years building up an arsenal akin to that of a conventional army. It violated the sovereignty of Lebanon, and continues to do so to this very day. The Beirut-Rafic Hariri International Airport has been particularly important to Hezbollah in recent years, as the smuggling of weapons into Lebanon grew more difficult. Israeli air raids have de facto stopped the transfer of munitions from Syria into Lebanon. Similarly, UN Resolution 1701, which was passed in the aftermath of the July 2006 war, provided international peacekeepers with authority over Lebanon’s security waters. With both the land and sea paths blocked, Hezbollah has been ramping up its smuggling operations via the air.
It is only ironic that Beirut’s airport – the same one Israel attacked in 1968 and, later, in 1982, is again becoming the centerpiece of the conflict between Israel and Lebanon. When the late Rafik al-Hariri entered office and began investing resources in improving Lebanon’s infrastructure, he viewed Beirut’s international airport as a gateway to modernity and development. Today, it is a decrepit airport that, other than being unsuitable for passengers, is also a base for Hezbollah’s military buildup. It is a reflection of Lebanese society: a reminder of what we once strove to be and what we’ve actually become.
 – Nadeem Qatish
Al-Anba, Kuwait, October 3
“No to the silencing of opinions” and “Yes to freedom of speech” were just two of the many slogans we heard chanted throughout Arab capitals just a few years ago. Since then, the Arab world has gone through a widespread process of so-called “democratization.” International players such as the European Union and the United States pressured Arab governments to loosen government restrictions on the media and the press.
Yet our exaggerated focus on allowing free speech blinded us from noticing the new ideas that we allowed to propagate: agendas of hatred, violence and blasphemy. Allowing these kinds of ideologies – the same ones that gave rise to organizations like Islamic State – to spread throughout our societies proved to be more dangerous than limiting freedom of speech. We must therefore remember that freedom of expression involves more than just providing everyone with a platform to voice his or her agenda. Sometimes, the prisoner proves to be crueler than the prison guard.
We now know that an “imperfect” press that silences radicals is safer than a “perfect” press that gives rise to fundamentalism and terrorism. The talk of democratization that has swept the Arab world is overwhelmingly dangerous unless it is accompanied by a profound discussion about the responsibility of our governments to simultaneously protect our other rights.
This kind of discussion has been absent from the minds of Arab leaders. Kuwaiti women today, for example, finally participate in parliamentary elections – but only to vote for candidates that outspokenly deny women’s political rights. In other countries, those who describe democracy as “sacrilegious” are the same ones winning the popular vote. Without talking about the limits of democracy we are paving our way towards disaster.
Allowing the ignorant voices within our societies come to the fore under the guise of democracy will make us crave our long-forgotten days of tyranny and oppression.
– Salah al-Sayir
Al-Ittihad, UAE, October 1
The Russian threat to provide the Syrians with S-300 surface-to-air missiles has finally come to fruition. In fact, if we are to believe the statements made by Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu, this move is just the first of several punitive measures carried out by Russia against Israel. Shoygu also spoke about providing the Syrian Air Defense with electronic warfare systems that would hinder the Israeli ability to operate freely in Syrian airspace.
In the past two years, Israeli air strikes have destroyed nearly 200 Iranian sites and facilities in Syria and have prevented the transfer of weapons to Lebanon. Tel Aviv has done so while losing only one fighter jet. This has been made possible thanks to a close coordination mechanism between Israel and Russia.
The recent shooting down of a Russian airplane with its 15 crew members on board will undoubtedly burden Israeli-Russian relations. Yet it is still too soon to jump to conclusions. The Russians view themselves as the ultimate patrons of Syria. They therefore seek to control all actors who have a stake in the Syrian situation, even when the latter’s interests are incongruous. When Moscow says that it is working to strengthen Bashar Assad’s regime, it is doing so not out of kindheartedness, but because such a move is intended to make the Kremlin’s policy successful. Similarly, while Moscow is busy punishing Israel, it is quietly expelling Iranian forces away from Syria at the very request of Tel Aviv.
Putin tends to keep his cards close to his chest; rarely does he reveal his true intentions to the public. There are those who gloat and celebrate the end of the Israeli-Russian love affair. I would advise them to be a little more prudent and wait to see what tomorrow brings. There is more in these relations than meets the eye.
 – Hazem Sagiyeh
Al-Ahram, Egypt, October 3
Some 45 years after her death, the Arab world’s greatest singer, Umm Kulthum, will come back to life with the use of state-of-the-art technology. This is scheduled to happen in an upcoming concert organized in Saudi Arabia, where Umm Kulthum’s hologram will be projected on stage while her music will be played. According to the concert’s producers, those sitting in the audience will not be able to notice that the figure standing on stage isn’t real. It will feel, sound and look just as if the Star of the East were there herself.
Putting aside the technological aspect of this show (which is impressive in and of itself), this concert is remarkable for yet another reason: the fact that Umm Kulthum still succeeds to inspire the masses.
As an Egyptian, this provides me with a deep feeling of pride that words simply cannot express. During our darkest and most difficult days, Umm Kulthum organized concerts around the Arab world to raise funds for our country. She supported the Egyptian Army. She held campaigns for Egyptian children. She was an iconic figure who represented our nation’s noblest values. Most importantly, she was loved and admired by fans throughout the Arab world, who listened to her voice and felt that they were part of something bigger than themselves.
Today, in 2018, this sense of unity seems long gone. There is not a single star, let alone a leader, who can unite the Arab world. Umm Kulthum had that power. She was a singer, but also a political symbol. Everything she stood for and represented is so painfully absent from our lives today. Therefore, this concert is an important reminder; it is a message of hope for a better future for the Middle East, in which we, as Arabs, can see beyond our differences, overcome political divisions, and take pride in our shared cultural heritage.
– Ala Al-Saadna