Voices from the Arab Press: What our public officials are lacking

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

U.S. President Donald Trump points to a questioner while taking questions during a news conference following Tuesday's midterm congressional elections at the White House in Washington, U.S., November 7, 2018 (photo credit: KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS)
U.S. President Donald Trump points to a questioner while taking questions during a news conference following Tuesday's midterm congressional elections at the White House in Washington, U.S., November 7, 2018
Al-Watan, Egypt, November 23
Years ago, I met a former Arab government official who, on each and every occasion, gave speeches about his job and career. One couldn’t greet the official without being bombarded by long lectures on the man’s duties and responsibilities. All of these stories usually began with the words “In my capacity as an official.” The man was so obsessed with his title that he consistently hid how disgruntled the staff under him was, just to protect his own reputation in the eyes of his supervisors. All of this was done, of course, to block anyone who might try to dethrone this individual.
Unfortunately, these types of government workers have become all too common today. Almost anyone who worked in government in an Arab country will know what I’m talking about. We all have stumbled across such individuals. Sadly, this phenomenon suggests that we seem to have forgotten the fact that real leaders serve in office not because they want to hold on to their chairs, but because they care about the publics they represent.
In fact, politicians who love their jobs so much should immediately raise our suspicion. These are people whose titles have become so intertwined with their own personal character that we should immediately question their motives. Without their jobs, they lose themselves. Therefore, they will do anything they can to hold onto their titles.
I recall an old conversation I once had with one of my university professors, who came from Japan. Speaking about his experience working for a Japanese electronics company, the professor told us that he had turned down a lucrative offer from his employer to lead a new division for his company abroad. We were all shocked. But one’s reputation, the professor explained, must not be linked to one specific company, institution or position. His advice to us was the following:
When you get a new position, especially one in the public sector, put all of your effort and sincerity into that job and treat it as if you would be leaving it at the end of the year. This will fill you with a sense of urgency to do what it is you need to do. Remember that sitting on a chair is temporary and it is a double-edged sword: It can lift you or it can burn you. Support your team members and equip them with the tools they need to succeed. Above all, remember that you are representing something greater than yourself.
This is the exact mentality we are so desperately lacking in the Arab world today.
– Esaam Bukhari
Al-Ittihad, UAE, November 24
Last week an informal Indian team took part in a Russian-sponsored conference titled “The Moscow Formula” on the peace process in Afghanistan, attended by, among others, representatives from the Taliban. The talks, which brought together a variety of governments, including Pakistan and the Central Asian republics of the former Soviet Union, might signal a new era in India’s relations with Afghanistan.
The informal Indian delegation consisted of its former ambassador to Afghanistan and its former envoy to Pakistan. These retired diplomats are experts in the region, and their presence indicates that India is closely monitoring developments in Afghanistan.
In some way, the Indian participation in the conference gives legitimacy to the Taliban and recognizes it as an integral part of any future settlement in Afghanistan. On the other hand, it is clear beyond any doubt that the Taliban is here to stay, so ignoring its existence would not be wise on the part of the government of India. Anyone who is even remotely aware of Afghani politics knows that a large swath of the Afghani public, especially in the countryside, supports the movement.
The Indian government has already invested considerable efforts in rehabilitating Afghanistan, after it funded and carried out several construction projects in the country, including the building of schools, hospitals and a dam. Through this involvement, India is betting heavily on Afghanistan. This is in part in response to repeated demands from the Trump administration to see New Delhi begin to play its part in the region, but also as a direct attempt to undermine Pakistan’s influence. Representatives from Islamabad who attended the talks were unsurprisingly dismayed by India’s growing role in the Afghan peace-building process.
Although directly talking with Taliban members represents a major diversion from India’s policy to date, attending the conference enables New Delhi to take an active part in shaping the final outcome of the ceasefire agreement, which may very well bring the Taliban back into the Afghani parliament and political arena. We’ll see what this might spell for the future of India’s relations with its neighbors.
– Zaker al-Rahman
Al-Araby al-Jadeed, London, November 22
A new round of talks on the Syrian situation is scheduled to begin in Astana [Kazakhstan] at the end of November. The 10th round of talks, which took place in late July, revolved around the issues of combating terrorism and the return of refugees.
The head of the Russian delegation, Alexander Lavrentiev, claimed then that the talks brought about “positive developments.” However, the Syrian people did not notice any changes on the ground except for the so-called reduction of escalation, which resulted in a forced reconciliation between the Syrian opposition and the Assad regime, the subsequent handover of the former’s weapons, and their forced displacement to the Syrian north. Unfortunately, Russia has not been able to keep up the promises it made to those who accepted the reconciliation.
Obviously, Iran plays a big role in thwarting any attempt to find a solution to the situation in Syria. It knows that the end of the conflict between the regime and the opposition may reunite Syrians again. Under such circumstances, Tehran’s presence in Syria will be challenged, and its involvement in Syrian political life will be brought to the fore.
Similarly, the Assad regime will be unable to justify the existence of Iranian militias in Syria after a political solution is reached, especially since the general public rejects Iran’s meddling in Syria’s domestic political affairs. The Syrians, like the rest of the world, know that Tehran’s ultimate goal is to achieve an ideological, cultural and demographic occupation of Syria.
Even Russia will be unable to defend Iran’s expansionist project in the region, because doing so will risk Moscow’s close relations with a number of Arab and non-Arab countries that have become increasingly threatened by Iran in recent years.
 With this in mind, the real question now is what the next round of talks in Astana will bring. Will it provide a way out of the crisis in Idlib? Can it pave the path toward negotiating a final solution for the Syrian crisis in Geneva? Or, conversely, will it provide the groundwork for Iran to establish a permanent and formal presence in Syria, which will lead to more fighting and further bloodshed in years to come?
– Riyad Naasan Agha
Al-Arab, London, November 23
Those who keep up with US President Donald Trump’s statements know that for the first time since George H.W. Bush’s administration, there is finally another US administration that understands something about the Middle East and the challenges that it is facing.
Although he often fails to drill down into the details of his plan, Trump seems to hit the nail on the head. His statements jump straight to the point, without political correctness. His remarks last week, for example, began by addressing Iran directly, stressing that Tehran is “waging war by other means” on Saudi Arabia from Yemen. The president’s remarks were not limited to Yemen. Trump went over Iran’s behavior in Iraq and Lebanon, where it provided support for Hezbollah, and in Syria, where it aided Bashar Assad in killing millions of Syrians. Trump concluded the introduction to his statement by saying “Iran is at the forefront of the sponsors of terrorism” in the world.
The entire White House statement was a comparison between Iran’s behavior and the behavior of Saudi Arabia. The US president analyzed Saudi policy and demonstrated how the kingdom is an ally of the United States, sharing its efforts to fight terrorism and extremism. Trump mentioned that Saudi Arabia is prepared to invest about $450 billion in the United States, and warned that if Riyadh doesn’t buy American weapons, these arms deals will go to China and Russia. This statement is a monumental milestone in the relations between Riyadh and Washington. Trump clearly refused to follow the footsteps of his predecessors by ignoring the Iranian involvement in the region. He was clear in his intentions to strengthen his country’s ties with Saudi Arabia.
Yes, the crime of killing Jamal Khashoggi cannot be justified in any way. This is certain. But it is also not natural to exploit this crime to directly target Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Trump therefore found no fault in admitting that the Saudi crown prince may have had foreknowledge of the crime, but refused to allow this incident to strengthen Iran.
Will this American conviction finally register with Iran? Will it pick up on the message and finally understand that the US administration has a clear strategy against its expansionist ambitions? In 1991, Iran tried to dupe the world by taking control over Iraq in the aftermath of the Gulf War. It deployed sectarian militias and elements of the Revolutionary Guards in an attempt to topple the Iraqi regime. Bush’s administration had enough wisdom to prevent this, despite everything Saddam Hussein’s regime had done. It was Bush, secretary of state James Baker and national security adviser Brent Scowcroft who knew that the fall of Iraq would mean that Iran could undermine the regional balance.
Although Bush shouldn’t be compared to Trump, especially in the light of the former’s experience in global politics and the latter’s lack thereof, it cannot be ignored that the current US administration is the first in many years to finally look the Middle East reality in the eye and call it as it is.
– Kheir Allah Kheir Allah
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