Voices from the Arab Press: On Biden’s upcoming visit to Saudi Arabia

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

 THEN-US president Barack Obama speaks at a Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 2016.  (photo credit: KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS)
THEN-US president Barack Obama speaks at a Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 2016.

On Biden’s upcoming visit to Saudi Arabia

An-Nahar, Lebanon, July 8

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The most prominent impact of the crisis that emerged in the past few years between the United States and Saudi Arabia was that it prompted the kingdom, alongside a number of other Arab countries that have been allies to the US, to search for new paths in their international relations.

When US president Barack Obama stepped into office, he began promoting a policy of appeasement toward Tehran. His hope was that the economic benefits that would come with a nuclear deal would convince the mullahs to mend their ways. This worldview also was shared by the European signatories to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Unfortunately, the price for Obama’s miscalculation was borne by Middle Eastern countries. Instead of reaping the economic benefits that came together with the nuclear agreement and normalizing its ties with the rest of the world, Tehran insisted on maintaining its expansionist policy in the region. Instead of turning to face its internal problems and work to promote the well-being of its citizens, Iran did the exact opposite.

Since President Joe Biden entered the White House, relations between the US and Saudi Arabia continued to worsen. In fact, Biden launched explicit attacks against the kingdom while he was still on the campaign trail. He restricted Saudi Arabia’s purchase of arms for defensive purposes, he removed the Houthis from the list of foreign terrorist organizations, and he succumbed to pressure from the progressive fringes of the Democratic Party regarding the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

US President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Yair Lapid meet on the second day of Biden's visit (credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)US President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Yair Lapid meet on the second day of Biden's visit (credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)

And then, after beginning his term in office, Biden sought to revive Obama’s nuclear deal, with all of its flaws and disadvantages, at the expense of his former allies in the Middle East – including Egypt, Jordan and Gulf Cooperation Council states.

Thankfully, the crisis brought to light a firm, conscious, mature and experienced Saudi leadership. More importantly, it revealed Saudi Arabia’s political and diplomatic shrewdness.

Therefore, it’s surprising to hear some political pundits describing Biden’s upcoming visit to Saudi Arabia as an opportunity for Riyadh to “break away from its isolation.” The truth is that Riyadh was never isolated. Rather, it was the United States that was isolated due to its illusory foreign policy, inspired by the legacy of Obama. This policy failed in the Middle East, just as it did in Ukraine.

Biden’s visit, therefore, should more accurately be described as an American attempt to reconcile with the Arab world.

Before the president arrives in the region and touches down on the kingdom’s soil, it would be useful for him and his team to rethink their media tactics regarding the visit, and refrain from downplaying its importance. After all, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia plays one of the most central roles in the politics of the region. Refusing to acknowledge this fact would empty the expected visit of any strategic importance. – Ali Hamada

Why are cooking show booming?

Al-Masry Al-Youm, Egypt, July 10

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was right when he spoke last week about the noticeable increase in the number of programs airing on Egyptian television that are dedicated to cooking. He jokingly said that food – no matter how important, creative or inspiring of a topic it is – shouldn’t constitute all the content that viewers consume through public and private channels.

Granted, television is guided by viewer ratings, and it’s clear that many viewers enjoy watching cooking-related shows. Entertainment was, is and will continue to be one of the important and necessary roles of the media. On the long and varied list of topics around which television programs revolve, cooking shows stand out in particular.

This isn’t unique to Egypt. In fact, cooking and food have become the focal point of many television shows in large, developed and influential media environments, including the United States.

Cooking programs address the permanent and renewed needs and desires of almost all sectors of the public, and, at the same time, they don’t impose huge production expenses. In exchange for this relatively low cost, producers generate many hours of footage that can be edited and spread across several seasons.

So long as the list of participants, menus and recipes continues to evolve, the audience will continue to passionately watch. Advertisers from the food industry, as well as manufacturers of cooking equipment, will continue to fund these programs by purchasing advertising space.

It’s also interesting to note that cooking shows are among the least controversial media products that exist in the market today. They rarely violate any ethical or moral standards, especially when compared to talk shows or reality TV.

So, what made the president criticize this growing trend we’re seeing around us? It seems as if the president, who has spoken many times about the need to avoid indulgence and extravagance, also believes in limiting our number of meals and abstaining from extraneous eating. In his view, people eat to live, not live to eat. Therefore, there’s no reason to devote so many hours of prime-time television to food and cooking.

Yet if President Sisi wants to sway what the public watches, more investment must be made in programs revolving around deep, meaningful topics. In other words, the solution isn’t to limit the number of food shows, but, rather, to provide alternative programs people can watch.

We must provide more opportunities for the public to consider and discuss serious issues, and allow the presentation of different, and often contradicting, opinions. Only then will political, social, economic and cultural programs flourish, and cooking programs will return to the normal and acceptable space they are supposed to inhabit in our daily lives. – Yasser Abdel-Aziz                      

Hajj after 2 years of a pandemic

Okaz, Saudi Arabia, July 7

After nearly two years in which the coronavirus pandemic spread across the world and shut down international borders, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia decided this year to welcome pilgrims from across the world seeking to perform the Hajj in Mecca.

Of course, the decision to allow pilgrims to reenter the country for the first time in two years wasn’t taken lightly; it was reached after a thorough study of the situation. Saudi authorities confirmed that the virus is currently under control, and that the precautionary measures that were implemented during the Hajj period this year are expected to succeed in limiting potential risks.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has always been able to organize and host both the Hajj and Umrah with a huge number of visitors exceeding two million pilgrims each year. This experience, accumulated over decades, equipped authorities with extensive know-how in how to deal with all logistics pertaining to the pilgrimage, including health risks.

The kingdom has spared no effort, time or money in preparing the infrastructure required to host pilgrims during the onset of a global pandemic, including through innovative solutions in transportation, hospitality and healthcare. As soon COVID-19 emerged and cast a dark shadow on the world, the kingdom rushed to implement all precautionary measures to contain the virus and prevent it from spreading.

Among those decisions was reducing the number of pilgrims during the past two years and limiting the Hajj season to internal pilgrims in the kingdom who were immune to the virus. As a precautionary measure, the kingdom has started receiving pilgrims from outside the kingdom to perform the rituals of Umrah during the past months, and this year’s Hajj season is the first season since the pandemic erupted in which the kingdom receives pilgrims from abroad.

The kingdom’s ability to organize the Hajj season efficiently and swiftly increases year after year. And still, the huge efforts and intensive preparations to reduce the risks associated with Hajj this year deserve to be commended. These efforts started before the Hajj season and continue well after Hajj days are over. Certainly, good planning and carefully thought-out decisions are all essential factors in the system of success that the kingdom developed, especially in the field of emergency crisis management.

The precautionary measures we follow every day inside and outside the holy sites give us more confidence in the kingdom’s ability to overcome challenges and manage the current Hajj season with complete efficiency, God willing. – Muhammad Mufti

The growing use of drugs: An imminent danger for Kuwait

Al Rai, Kuwait, July 10

Data recently shared by Kuwaiti authorities point to a growing phenomenon of drug use across the country. This dangerous trend warrants our careful attention, as it must be recognized and addressed.

Today, there are about 20,000 drug addicts in Kuwait, according to health authorities. Of course, this figure doesn’t capture “casual” drug users who consume common drugs like cannabis.

There is no doubt that the Kuwaiti government made important efforts to curb the use of drugs, but the government’s role must be greater and more pronounced given the severity of this trend. Kuwait’s health authorities must be transparent about the magnitude of this problem, and Kuwait’s citizens must be informed, on a daily basis, about the initiatives and actions taken to combat drug use in society.

Some examples of such activities might include cracking down on drug dealers, eliminating drug distribution networks and passing legislation that would discourage people from using drugs.

In this context, the government’s efforts should draw on expertise and experience gained in other countries. Indeed, the government should cooperate with other nations to fight drug traffickers in the region and prevent the flow of drugs into Kuwaiti markets.

The penalties surrounding drug use should also be tightened and stiffened, as is the case in some countries where the punishment for those facilitating the sales of drugs can even reach the death penalty.

In addition, the government must launch educational campaigns that raise awareness of the dangers associated with drug use, and warn young people of its dire consequences. Similarly, employers should carry out drug tests as a part of their hiring processes, in order to dissuade workers from using drugs. Government ministries can also enact drug tests as a precondition for receiving public services, including things like a driver’s license or a marriage license.

These are all procedures and actions that will contribute to significantly reducing the use of drugs. It is also possible to enact legislation that would allow Kuwait’s border authorities to test newcomers and ensure that they don’t have a history of drug use. Drug use is foreign to Kuwait’s values and traditions, and it cannot accept the spread of this phenomenon among its people in any way. – Issa Al-Amiri

Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb