Voices from the Arab press: Erdogan rearranges his Syrian priorities

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

 TURKISH PRESIDENT Recep Tayyip Erdogan participates in morning prayers in Mecca’s grand mosque, Saudi Arabia, April 29. (photo credit: Saudi Press Agency via Reuters)
TURKISH PRESIDENT Recep Tayyip Erdogan participates in morning prayers in Mecca’s grand mosque, Saudi Arabia, April 29.
(photo credit: Saudi Press Agency via Reuters)

Erdogan rearranges his Syrian priorities

Al-Nahar, Lebanon, May 6

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s announcement of a project for the voluntary repatriation of one million Syrian refugees to the areas controlled by Turkey in northern Syria aims to undermine the Turkish opposition, which is using the refugee card against Erdogan more than a year before the date of the presidential elections. Therefore, the return of Syrian refugees doesn’t constitute any kind of tangible change in Erdogan’s position on the Syrian crisis, but rather comes in the context of a reordering of priorities for a president worried about opinion polls. 

The Turkish president still believes that the Turkish military presence in northern Syria has become a necessity for Turkish national security, especially in light of the hostility to the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad and the fighters of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units. Erdogan is taking advantage of Russia’s preoccupation with Ukraine these days in order to rearrange his priorities in Syria. He seeks to become the most powerful regional player in this country, alongside Iran. 

In a sign of great political and military significance, the Turkish authorities announced two weeks ago that they prevented Russian planes from flying in their airspace if they were carrying Russian soldiers on their way to Syria. At the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Ankara informed Moscow that it would not allow Russian ships in the Mediterranean Sea to cross the Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits to the Black Sea, in accordance with the Montreux Convention of 1936. It is worth noting that Russian ships in the Mediterranean have one single sanctuary, which is a base in the Syrian city of Tartus. 

 US President Joe Biden delivers remarks on administration plans to fight inflation and lower costs during a speech in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building's South Court Auditorium at the White House in Washington, U.S., May 10, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/LEAH MILLIS) US President Joe Biden delivers remarks on administration plans to fight inflation and lower costs during a speech in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building's South Court Auditorium at the White House in Washington, U.S., May 10, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/LEAH MILLIS)

These two decisions are directly related to the Russian military presence in Syria. The administration of US President Joe Biden cannot continue to anger Turkey, which enjoys an important position on the southern border of NATO at a time of comprehensive confrontation with Russia. From now until the presidential elections in June next year, Erdogan will take many steps aimed at improving his image and raising his popularity, which has deteriorated due to the devaluation of the Turkish lira and the inflation that it is experiencing due to the pandemic.

Erdogan will not hesitate to deploy all tools and tricks at his disposal as a result of the Ukrainian war to restore some power to the Turkish economy, which he is fully aware will be the biggest factor determining his political fate. – Sameeh Saab 

President Putin and Islam

Al-Masry Al-Youm, Egypt, May 7

President Vladimir Putin grew up in the Soviet era, in a political climate that rejected the concept of religion. Soviets were pushed to abandon religion and “convert” to atheism. Indeed, religious property was confiscated, while religious figureheads were harassed and ridiculed.

However, the recent war between Russia and Ukraine revealed many mysterious aspects of Putin’s personality and worldview. For example, the Russian president condemned the publishing of cartoons that offend the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him. Putin stressed that this is far from freedom of creativity, and demanded that people respect sanctities, even if their beliefs differ. He subsequently banned the publishing of any cartoons depicting the prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, in all Russian media. 

Among the stories that are told about Putin is that he puts a copy of the Holy Koran on his desk and often reads verses in his meetings and conversations with Muslim leaders. He used to give copies of the Koran to Muslim presidents, including historical copies, as happened with the president of Iran, the emir of Qatar and the president of Syria. Some claim that this is mere political propaganda, but others believe that this is due to Putin’s respect for religions. 

Today, Russia has 6,000 mosques and millions of Muslims who enjoy full freedom of worship. Throughout history, Russia hasn’t witnessed any major hostility with Islam, nor did it enter any religious conflicts. The Islamic republics preserved all their religious and social rights. This explains Putin’s warm relations with the peoples of these republics and respect for their religions, especially since many of them have a long history with Islam. – Farouk Jweideh

Israel and its stance toward Iran

Al-Ittihad, UAE, May 6

Israel is home to a handful of think tanks and research centers focused on identifying the risks and challenges facing the state in the short and medium term, while developing long-term national strategic visions. The best political and strategic minds in Israel work at these centers. A core focus of these research centers in recent months has been the issue of a nuclear Iran. Specifically, Israeli experts are busy analyzing how the failure of the recent negotiations with Iran over a renewed nuclear deal will affect the future of the region. 

Based on the reports and briefs published by these centers, it seems as if there still are a few major gaps between the Israeli and American positions on the Iranian nuclear file. The bilateral discussions held recently between the two countries didn’t help close the gaps. The US administration warned Israel against taking unilateral measures against Iran that would sabotage the agreement. The Americans also tried to convince their Israeli counterparts that the agreement poses no real risk to Israel’s security. 

Meanwhile, growing voices in Israel warn against over-reliance on the US and are calling for Israel to develop its own plan of action against Iran’s nuclear program, even if it requires entering into a direct confrontation with Iran. The US administration realizes that silencing Israel’s voice isn’t as simple as it seems. Concluding arms deals, financing the Iron Dome system, or allocating additional resources to Israel’s Arrow system won’t silence the Israeli government. 

Rather, the US must respond to Israel’s comprehensive security concerns and protect it from any future war with Iran. The advice given by Israeli strategists to Naftali Bennett’s government focuses on the necessity of separating the strategic from the political, focusing on Israel’s long-term priorities regardless of the agreement signed between Washington and Tehran. In other words, if Israel feels a need to protect itself from an external threat, it may very well take unilateral action without receiving permission from anyone. – Tariq Fahmy

Unacceptable behavior toward women

El-Watan, Egypt, May 5

One of the most concerning phenomena we’re witnessing among our younger generations today is predatory behavior toward women. This behavior consists of harassing any young woman who dares take to the street with her hair untied or while wearing a piece of clothing that reveals some skin. 

You find a terrifying number of young men and teenagers descending into the streets and parks like hungry hyenas, looking for their prey. They congregate in groups, catcall, harass and assault innocent women who pass by them. Their worldview is distorted and sick. It is supported by a long tradition of degrading and dehumanizing women. And unfortunately, these anti-women sentiments also are common on our computer and television screens. Our children are playing video games and watching movies and television shows that give them a dangerous conception of toxic masculinity. 

What’s even worse is that these messages also are echoed by some religious preachers, who fault women for “seducing” men with their clothing and appearance. To them, a woman appearing in public with uncovered hair is inviting this despicable behavior upon herself. Needless to say, women have full control, decision and liberty over their bodies. They can dress however they see fit and wear their hair in whatever way they want. This doesn’t give license to anyone to approach them and harass them on the street. 

Educating our children against this kind of repulsive behavior begins at home. – Khaled Montaser

Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb.