Voices from the Arab press: What Iraq's election outcome might mean

A selection of media reports from the Arab press relating to Israel and the Middle East.

Muqtada al-Sadr (photo credit: REUTERS)
Muqtada al-Sadr
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Al-Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, May 20
Now that the elections in Iraq have concluded, we can take a moment to reflect on their outcome and the new balance of power established in the Iraqi parliament.
There is no doubt that the biggest winner of these elections is Muqtada al-Sadr, an Iran sympathizer who turned into an Iraqi nationalist, whose Shia militias were incorporated into the Iraqi Army.
Sadr’s campaign called for national unity and the coming together of all tribes and religious groups in Iraqi society. His party, the Sairoon Alliance, won the majority of seats in the parliament, likely making him the next prime minister.
However, he cannot run the country alone, since none of the parties won an absolute majority. Sadr will thus have to form a partnership with his colleagues in the Fatah Alliance, a competing Shi’ite party, as well as with the Islamic Dawa Party, led by current Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.
Sadr is a new player in the Iraqi political arena, whereas Abadi, who has ruled Iraq for nearly four years, is a seasoned politician with an extensive network of supporters and allies. However, he failed to secure the number of seats his party was expected to win.
Although this new reality seems like it might lead to instability and volatility, it also holds some promising prospects for unity. These three parties will have to work together in order to form the next government, making each leader more likely to make concessions. The Sairoon Alliance, the Fatah Alliance and the Dawa Party will have to put aside their differences and unite around the most burning issues on the political agenda. Chief among them are the continuous fight against corruption; improving Iraq’s relations with its neighbors; and counterterrorism efforts throughout the country.
A message of unity and harmony is what Iraq so desperately needs, and what this new balance of power might indirectly create.
– Hassan Mustafa
Al-Raya, Qatar, May 14
The most recent confrontation between Israel and Iran is certainly not the last.
The two countries are determined to set lines in the sand that the other side must not cross. They view Syria as a zero-sum arena in which only one of them can eventually win. Israel has, accordingly, taken bold measures against any Iranian attempt to establish a permanent presence in Syria.
Faced with this hard-line stance, the Arab world seems to have chosen to side with Tel Aviv. Arab leaders have put aside their criticism of Israel and its oppression of the Palestinian people and embraced the Israelis. Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa even tweeted that Israel has a right to protect itself against Iranian aggression.
Sadly, much like Khalifa, the Arab world seems to have forgotten that Israel is a colonial occupying power. Having harassed, expelled and killed Palestinians for over six decades, Israel is not capable of suddenly changing its true colors overnight. Its ultimate objectives and core interests remain the same, and they stand in complete contradiction to the interests of the Arab world – that is, to take over the maximum amount of Palestinian territory and erase the Palestinians’ connection to their land.
In Israel’s view, the Sunni Arab world is nothing but a temporary ally. Let us remember that during the authoritarian regime of the Iranian shah, Israel maintained close relations with Tehran. It even encouraged the shah to act against his Arab neighbors, since such hostility was to Israel’s advantage. Now, as American pressure on Iran is mounting and as the Iranians face further chaos in Syria, there is a true chance of regime change in Tehran. This is what Israel ultimately wishes to see happen. A new Iranian regime, in Israel’s eyes, can be compelled to stand by Israel. At that point in time, the Arab world will cease to be a legitimate partner. The Sunni world is a mere pawn in a larger game of geopolitical chess controlled by Israel. And you can already guess who will be the biggest losers.
– Abd al-Nasser al-Najar
Okaz, Saudi Arabia, May 16
The Palestinian cause has become one of the most manipulated political causes of our time. It has been used by almost every single power in the Middle East – from Iran to Turkey to the Gulf states – as a political card, played and then discarded at its holder’s convenience. The ultimate victims have obviously been the people of Palestine.
A look at the recent events between Turkey and Israel provides a case in point. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan decided to expel the Israeli ambassador from Ankara, after accusing the Israeli government of “having blood on its hands.” But from Erdogan’s perspective, the Israeli government always has blood on its hands. Why, then, expel the ambassador now? Why have him in the first place? Sadly, the answer is that Erdogan doesn’t really care about Palestine. Engaging in a high-profile political altercation with the Israeli premier over the massacre in Gaza is a simple way to appeal to his own electoral base at home.
The same criticism also applies to Hamas. If the organization’s true motivation is to liberate the Palestinian people from the brutal Israeli occupation, then why is it promising the average person the right of return? Israel will not disappear so that Palestinians can return to their lost homes. However, they may be able to form an independent state, with east Jerusalem as its capital, side by side with an Israeli one. This, and only this, should be the focus of the Palestinian struggle – namely, isolating Israel in the international arena and forcing it to accept to the two-state solution. Unfortunately, radicals have taken over the Palestinian struggle and are using it to promote their own political ends.
The Palestinian cause has been hijacked again and again. The time has come to return it to its rightful owners – the ordinary Palestinian men and women who are struggling to survive under current conditions.
– Mashri al-Zaidi
Asharq al-Awsat, London, May 15
Previously, when the Israeli military engaged Iran, it was done indirectly, targeting Tehran’s proxies on Israel’s borders, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. However, the recent Israeli attacks in Syria, which, according to numerous reports, significantly impacted on the Revolutionary Guard Corps’s military capabilities, were the first direct confrontation between the two countries. It was a true test of their respective military forces, and it left Iran humiliated and Israel triumphant.
This is a new reality that we’re slowly getting used to in the Middle East.
That is, Israel has slowly transitioned from being a local actor, concerned primarily with its own borders, to a regional superpower that acts like the neighborhood’s cop.
The US administration already made clear that sanctions on Iran will be reimposed unless Tehran commits to forgoing its ambition for a military nuclear program, in addition to withdrawing all of its forces from other countries in the region. Under the current Iranian leadership, however, it is unlikely that such conditions will be met.
This will pave the way for a growing Israeli role in the region. With American backing, Tel Aviv will continue to closely monitor Iran and its activities and take any action necessary to limit its power. While it is one of the smallest countries in the region, Israel might become the most powerful player in the Middle East in years to come.
Some countries, like Egypt, have already decided to align with it, while other countries, like the UAE, are still deciding where they stand. Regardless, the current political climate allows Tel Aviv to assume a role it never assumed before.
– Abdulrahman al-Rashed