Voices from the Arab press: Early 2022: Decisive days for the world

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

 WAVING THE Georgian flag during a protest against the arrival of Russian TV presenter Vladimir Pozner in Tbilisi, April 1. In current negotiations, NATO is likely demanding that Russia rescind its decision to add former Soviet state Georgia to its ranks. (photo credit: Irakli Gedenidze/Reuters)
WAVING THE Georgian flag during a protest against the arrival of Russian TV presenter Vladimir Pozner in Tbilisi, April 1. In current negotiations, NATO is likely demanding that Russia rescind its decision to add former Soviet state Georgia to its ranks.
(photo credit: Irakli Gedenidze/Reuters)

Early 2022: Decisive days for the world

Al-Ittihad, UAE, January 5

The next week will usher in fateful negotiations that could determine the entire direction in which US-Russia relations will head. These negotiations may very well be the last chance to resolve the deepening crisis between the two countries, which has been the most acute and severe one between the two nations since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. 

That crisis put both America and the former Soviet Union on the precipice of a nuclear war. The fear is that the current crisis, surrounding Russia’s intrusion into Ukraine, could lead to similarly dire consequences for both sides: America (and NATO) on one hand, and Russia on the other.

However, there is evidence that both sides are aware of these dangerous consequences and are investing serious efforts into preventing the crisis from further escalating. The recent phone call between presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin is a reassuring sign. Following the bilateral negotiations, Russia will also hold talks with NATO and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Russia preempted these negotiations, and in mid-December presented two proposals for agreements, one to the United States and the other to NATO. The content of these two proposals has not yet been published, but it likely entails demands from NATO to cease its eastward expansion and rescind its decision to add Ukraine and Georgia – two former Soviet countries – to its ranks.

US President Joe Biden delivers remarks in the Statuary Hall of the US Capitol during a ceremony on the first anniversary of the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol by supporters of former President Donald Trump in Washington, D.C., US, January 6, 2022. (credit: GREG NASH/POOL VIA REUTERS)US President Joe Biden delivers remarks in the Statuary Hall of the US Capitol during a ceremony on the first anniversary of the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol by supporters of former President Donald Trump in Washington, D.C., US, January 6, 2022. (credit: GREG NASH/POOL VIA REUTERS)

Despite conflicting stances within the current administration, it seems as if President Biden is willing to accept at least some of these demands, but at the same time, wants to see faith-building gestures from Putin, especially a commitment to end all interference with its European neighbors.

Nevertheless, the willingness of both parties to accept part of the other party’s proposals may be the basis on which a historic compromise can be achieved. This is the best-case scenario on the eve of a crucial agreement. What is important is to seek to avoid the worst-case scenario, which could take the world to the brink of a dangerous abyss. – Waheed Abdul Majeed 

Finally, a Khaleeji in the OPEC presidency

Asharq Al-Awsat, London, January 7

Over 40 years have passed since the position of secretary-general of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) has been assumed by a Khaleeji individual. Last week, Kuwaiti citizen Haitham Al Ghais was elected as the organization’s new leader, and he will succeed Nigerian Mohammed Barkindo, who will leave the post in July. 

This appointment raises an important question: Isn’t it strange that Gulf countries comprise four of the organization’s 15 members, and yet not a single Khaleeji has led the organization in so many years? To be clear, the Gulf presented and appointed a secretary-general 15 years ago, Dr. Adnan Shihab-al-Din from Kuwait, but he did not fully assume the position.

There is an explanation for everything in OPEC, even the things that no one understands. First, Saudi Arabia was not willing to have a Saudi candidate for the leadership of the organization. The explanation for this can be found in the words of one of the Saudi oil ministers: “We are actually the leader, and the largest producer in the organization, so why do we crowd everyone out for the position?”

This is a reasonable point of view, as Saudi Arabia wants to win everyone’s affection, and a Saudi presence at the top of the organization’s ranks could have increased tensions among member states, given the importance of this role.

Another reason is that OPEC has historically sought to appoint secretaries-general from neutral countries, including Nigeria, Indonesia and Venezuela. Indeed, everyone expected that Saudi Arabia would support Indonesia’s return to the position only seven years ago, but its candidate was not a strong competitor. But given Caracas’s bad relations with the West, assumptions were also made that Saudi Arabia would support Nigeria.

Today, despite all this history of sensitivities and intricacies, Al Ghais was chosen in a very smooth way, which demonstrates the extent of maturity that OPEC has reached. – Wael Mahdi 

Kuwait’s political instability

Al Qabas, Kuwait, January 5

I think a large part of our problems in Kuwait stems from our political instability and lack of accountability. The truth is that Kuwait is neither a dictatorship nor a democracy. If we were a functioning democracy as we claim to be, then development plans would not have been delayed to the extent they have. 

Years ago, the government announced a development plan, and it turned out, as usual, that it was neither correct nor sound on paper. The plan proposed allocating an amount of 10 billion dinars to speed up the implementation of construction projects, such as medical cities, low-cost homes, new roads, warehouses and more.

It also included a proposal to privatize some public utility companies. But like with many other ambitious projects in Kuwait, the devil proved to be in the details. No one in the government had a clear execution plan. I still remember the statement made by former oil minister Sheikh Ahmed Al-Fahd, who claimed that 25% of the development plan had been completed.

A few days later, the works minister came out and announced that the rate stood at 27%. Then, a member of parliament spoke to the public and admitted that actually zero progress had been made on the plan. These kinds of inconsistencies, which at best represent the government’s ineptitude and at worst represent its deceit, are exactly what cause most of the problems in our society.

Last week, the newly elected cabinet appointed Member of Parliament Abdulwahab Al-Rasheed as finance minister. Only time will tell if the minister finally succeeds in devising and delivering on a development plan, or whether he’ll just follow the footsteps of his predecessors. – Mamdouh Al-Muhaini 

The one-year death anniversary of Qasem Soleimani

Nida Al Watan, Lebanon, January 7

It’s been interesting to follow the events commemorating the one-year death of Qasem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s Quds Force. What is particularly interesting to note is the stark difference between Iran’s commemoration of the event and the commemorative events and actions taken by the countries affiliated with Iran. 

Within Iran, the official stance was that the United States and former president Donald Trump are the ones behind Soleimani’s killing. The message echoed throughout the streets of Tehran was that those behind the murder must be brought to justice.

In contrast, Iran’s proxies in the Middle East took a much harsher stance. They devoted themselves to full-fledged commemorative events that singled out and targeted the United States. In Iraq, for example, we’ve seen repeated attempts to launch missiles at US military bases located within the Green Zone. We’ve also seen a widespread rejection of the election results in an attempt to foil the formation of a new government.

Similarly, in Yemen, Houthi militias hijacked an Emirati-flagged vessel in the Red Sea, which was traveling from Yemen’s Socotra Island to the Saudi city of Jazan. In Lebanon, the entrance to the airport was covered with pictures of Soleimani and slogans hostile to Saudi Arabia. In Israel, two rockets were fired by the Islamic Jihad at Tel Aviv. There were also two cyberattacks against two leading Israeli newspaper sites, The Jerusalem Post and Ma’ariv.

All of this reaffirms the point that Iran doesn’t currently want to provoke the United States and Israel while the Vienna negotiations are underway. The question is, therefore, why are these countries doing the “dirty work” for Iran and sacrificing their own national interests in the process, in favor of the mullah regime? – Tony Francis 

Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb.