Voices from the Arab World: When foreign powers perpetuate local wars

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

GIRLS STAND next to a poster depicting Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (right) and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, 2017.  (photo credit: REUTERS/REEM BAESHEN)
GIRLS STAND next to a poster depicting Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (right) and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, 2017.
(photo credit: REUTERS/REEM BAESHEN)
Al-Watan, Egypt, February 2
All types of wars are devastating, but civil wars are particularly calamitous. These are wars in which villagers attack fellow villagers, neighbors attack neighbors, and families attack their own relatives. They are the worst kind of wars because they are not fought over territorial integrity, freedom from tyranny or self-determination. Rather, they revolve around ego and power. They run along ethnic, religious and sectarian lines, creating deep rifts among members of the same community.
Currently, two large civil wars are unfolding in our region. In Yemen, two factions – one siding with former president Saleh and one loyal to the government of Hadi – have wreaked havoc on the country for the past three years. More notably, in Syria, seven years of fighting have killed over half a million individuals while millions of others have been displaced.
What is deplorable, besides the sheer number of deaths, is that foreign intervention has been fueling this war. Russia, Iran, Turkey and the US have all exacerbated the Syrian war. Russia has been carpet-bombing the country from the air. Iran has been supporting terrorist militias operating freely on the ground. Turkey has been targeting Kurdish populations both inside and outside Syria, and the US sealed off the country’s borders, trapping refugees inside a war zone.
What is most absurd is that some of these countries openly call for democratic reforms in Syria and elsewhere in the world, while implementing their own anti- democratic policies that have perpetuated and aggravated the conflict. Indeed, civil wars are disgraceful but more contemptible are those that fuel them from afar. The real tragedy in this story is that while these parties claim to stand for liberty and freedom, they are instead inflicting death. – Abdallah bin Bajad Al-Atibi
Asharq Al-Awsat, London, February 1
While most Syrian opposition groups refused to attend the Russian-mediated peace talks in Sochi, the conference last week still welcomed over 1,500 Syrian delegates. The major problem, however, was that while the parties were sitting down to talk in Russia, Assad’s forces launched over 100 raids in northwestern Syria, killing dozens of civilians.
This is simply unheard of. How can anyone seriously claim to be negotiating peace while attacking innocent people? How can the Russian, Iranian and Syrian governments truly believe that any Syrian opposition groups would accept a cease-fire deal while their own neighborhoods are being targeted? Granted, some might argue that these attacks are meant to pressure the Syrian opposition into making concessions. But the reality is that it makes peace harder to reach.
More disgraceful, the cease-fire framework proposed at the conference met none of the opposition’s demands. It merely protected Assad’s interests while calling on Syrian rebel groups to surrender. Sadly, reaching a cease-fire in Syria doesn’t seem to be the interest of the Russian or Syrian leaders. This is a grave mistake. Even a regime that enjoys the upper hand over the rebels must understand that both sides cannot have it all and that concessions will have to be made sooner or later. For now, Assad is ignoring this basic fact and so, too, is Moscow.
If the Syrian opposition leaders feel like their voices are left unheard, as is currently the case, they will simply pack up their bags and go home. In that event, the bloodshed will continue and nobody wins. – Abd al-Rahman al-Rashed

Al Jazeera, Qatar, February 2
On August 14, 2013, nearly 700 civilians were brutally killed by Egyptian security forces in Cairo’s Rabaa Al-Adawiya Square, when supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi, who gathered for a peaceful demonstration, were shot to death on the orders of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Thereafter, Egyptian activists adopted a four-finger salute as a protest sign. Flyers, posters and stickers depicting the symbol have spread throughout Egypt as a gesture of solidarity to those who lost their lives during the brutal crackdown.
Now, weeks before to so-called “elections” in Egypt, al-Sisi’s government has taken further steps to crush free speech in the country by banning the four-fingered symbol. According to a law drafted last week in parliament, any Egyptian citizen carrying, distributing or posting printed materials displaying the sign could be fined or even jailed. Absurdly, the very emblem that came to represent opposition to government tyranny has now been outlawed by an illegitimate Egyptian regime. This comes just days after al-Sisi’s main political rivals were arrested or intimidated into dropping out of the upcoming race, thereby leaving the 63-year-old president – who has served in office for over three years – to compete against himself.
What a sad testament to the current state of human rights in Egypt, which just seven years ago had millions of protesters in the streets calling for liberty and dignity. The only difference between Mubarak and al-Sisi is their names. Other than that, both men have ensured that their country remains unsafe, undemocratic and, most unfortunately, unfree. – Fare abu Hilal
Al Jazirah, Saudi Arabia, February 4
In the past decade, numerous upheavals have unfolded in our region and in retrospect, the Middle East might appear to be an entirely different place than it was just a few years ago. Most notably, we have seen leaders overthrown and their governments replaced in countries like Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. However, monarchies such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan have remained stable. Why is this the case? What makes monarchies more stable than presidential republics?
Some argue that the answer has to do with natural resources; that is, the Middle East’s monarchies are rich in oil and gas and have thus been able to develop their economies and enable their citizens to prosper. But this is simply untrue. Jordan, for example, barely has any natural resources. Morocco, similarly, does not have any oil or gas. Therefore, I believe the answer has to do with the norms established between the leader of a country and his citizens.

Saudi Arabia
, despite experiencing foreign invasions throughout its history, has always remained a unified territorial unit. As such, its people always maintained a shared feeling of national identity, and its leaders always won the support of the public. Meanwhile, in nearby Egypt, multiple military leaders overthrew each other and plotted against their political rivals. So this is the difference between the two: namely, that the Middle East’s monarchs drew legitimacy from their people, while the presidents of the republics stayed in power through force. Accordingly, when the opportunity presented itself, citizens quickly revolted against the regimes.
This is an important lesson we must all keep in mind. Power is important, but it will not endure without the backing of the people. – Muhammad Al al-Sheikh