Voices from the Arab press: Ukraine’s neutrality and Russian-American relations

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

 FINNISH RESERVE officers called up after World War II.  (photo credit: Laszlo/Keystone/AFP via Getty Images)
FINNISH RESERVE officers called up after World War II.
(photo credit: Laszlo/Keystone/AFP via Getty Images)

Ukraine’s neutrality and Russian-American relations

Al-Ittihad, UAE, April 14

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Neutralization of Ukraine has been one of Russia’s demands since the 2014 Crimean War. Moscow didn’t use the term “neutrality” per se, but it did demand what it means, namely that Ukraine not join NATO. Years later, in December 2021, this demand became a formal part of the security demands submitted by Russia to both NATO and Washington, in the form of two draft agreements. However, no understanding on the topic was reached.

Now, it seems that the requirement of Ukraine’s neutrality can be fulfilled if both sides of the war wish for the fighting to end. If this happens, we may enter a new era symbolized by the idea of neutrality. This would be based on the experience of Switzerland, which signed a declaration affirming its perpetual neutrality within the international community, in 1815.

In 1907, the Hague Convention concluded the Rights and Duties of Neutral Powers and Persons in Case of War on Land. There is no rule governing this issue, which often depends on the choice of the state wishing to declare its neutrality.

 NEW YORK City’s Times Square: The setting for Ramadan prayers.  (credit: Mario Tama/AFP via Getty Images) NEW YORK City’s Times Square: The setting for Ramadan prayers. (credit: Mario Tama/AFP via Getty Images)

Switzerland, for example, chose to maintain only a modest and symbolic armed force, as did Austria, which declared neutrality in 1955, when it found out it was the only way to de-escalate its crisis in the Cold War.

On the other hand, Finland retained its entire army after declaring neutrality following the failure of a Soviet invasion attempt at the beginning of World War II, while continuing to operate the system of compulsory national military service.

It is more likely that Ukraine, if the procedures for declaring its neutrality are completed, will retain what will remain of its armed forces after the war, with a commitment not to seek or develop nuclear weapons. However, Ukraine’s neutrality will not substitute a broader understanding between Moscow and Washington.

Moscow’s pre-war demands were not limited to Ukraine, which was mentioned only twice in the Russian draft of the agreement. Indeed, this draft included a demand for a complete halt to the eastern expansion of NATO and the establishment of rules or restrictions on the movement of its forces within member countries.

Two of Russia’s western neighbors, Latvia and Estonia, are members of NATO, while two other neighbors, Norway [Editor’s Note: Norway is a member of NATO] and Finland, may consider reviewing their neutrality. Meanwhile, a fifth neighbor, Georgia, is still seeking to join NATO. Therefore, the only way to reduce the tension that reached its climax in Russian-American relations is to reach understandings that ensure an acceptable Russian position on NATO. – Waheed Abd Al-Majeed 

(Mis)management of Kuwait University

Al Qabas, Kuwait, April 13

A decision was recently made to appoint a new director of Kuwait University, after a long wait during which the level of the university plummeted to unprecedented levels, and it became the subject of mockery and ridicule. In an attempt to extricate the university from its dismal position, the new administration announced the allocation of three whole working days to congratulate the new director on his position.

During this entire time, professors and teaching assistants were given paid time off to participate in celebratory events marking the university’s new leadership. One can only hope that all government agencies will follow this model and allocate two or three days – or maybe even an entire week – to congratulating their leaders at the expense of getting work done.

No one truly expected the university’s new leader to set foot in office and tend to his institution’s most burning problems, such as the dismal ranking it is suffering from. Rather than wasting the precious time of the university’s faculty and staff, the new director would have been better off rolling up his sleeves and getting to work.

I hope that someone will intervene to stop these ridiculous loyalty ceremonies, which have nothing to do with university norms or customs. If I were in the position of the university’s director, on my first day on the job I would have examined all the successful universities in the region and sought to understand the reason for their performance. – Ahmed Al-Sarraf 

The Taraweeh in Times Square was wrong

Asharq Al-Awsat, London, April 12

A few weeks ago, hundreds of US Muslims broke their Ramadan fast and offered congregational Taraweeh prayers in New York City’s Times Square. Attendees recited verses from the Koran and performed rakahs, all of which were projected on huge screens found in the square.

Now, with all due respect to those who celebrated the event as a monumental milestone for US Muslims, this topic warrants a closer look that examines other dimensions of the event and its repercussions.

The goal that the organizers of this event wanted to achieve was to “explain the religion of Islam to those who don’t know that Islam is a religion of peace.” Those who supported the gathering believe that the event gave the American public a glimpse into Muslim rituals and served as an invitation into the world of Islam. However, they blatantly ignore the side effects of this gathering.

Perhaps the biggest side effect that we should fear is the reaction coming from extremist right-wingers who oppose such events. These are Islamophobic individuals who will take advantage of any opportunity given to them to speak out against Islam.

If, God forbid, a number of right-wing extremists attended the gathering in Times Square and began harassing the worshippers there or perhaps tried to be provocative by burning a Koran, one can only imagine how disastrous the scene would get. And I’m not talking about the Taraweeh in Times Square alone. I’m afraid that the experience will be repeated in any other city or state.

Wisdom requires avoiding events that provoke the rabid racists and hard-line thugs. It is often said that we shouldn’t face a problem unless we think we can find a solution to it. As for me, I would rather avoid getting into the problem in the first place. – Hamad Al-Majed

Real insults against Islam

El-Watan, Egypt, April 15

Many worshippers believe that in order to avoid hurting the feelings of those fasting during Ramadan, it is forbidden for any person, Muslim or not, to eat during the day. Some even describe the act of eating around fasting Muslims as an insult.

I truly hope that most of us are able to live with the understanding that not everyone fasts. After all, the decision to observe the holy month of Ramadan is ultimately a product of personal conviction and belief. The person who fasts should be devout enough to understand that each person’s relationship with God is personal.

God never intended for all people to share the same conviction. Are we seriously this fragile that our entire set of beliefs is shaken so easily at the sight of someone eating during the month of Ramadan?!

The real insult, my friends, is carried out by those who do observe the strict laws of Ramadan but then proceed to take a bribe, cheat people or commit a crime. The real insult is when those claiming to speak on behalf of Islam physically hurt those who follow a different lifestyle to theirs as if God ever gave them the right to choose who should live and who should die. The real insult is when a fasting man physically assaults his wife under the pretext of discipline or protection.

Real insults are when children aren’t given the love they deserve, when feelings of selfishness and entitlement take over an individual and when those who were born in certain geographies or to certain backgrounds are treated more favorably than others. They’re not about who fasts and who eats during Ramadan. Rather, they’re about failing to be a good friend, partner, and human. – Khaled Montaser

Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb.