Voices from the Arab press: When Babo became Ivan

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

 THE VISION of Sen. Lindsey Graham (at L; Republican – South Carolina) was the one that unfortunately materialized into reality.  (photo credit: DREW ANGERER/GETTY IMAGES)
THE VISION of Sen. Lindsey Graham (at L; Republican – South Carolina) was the one that unfortunately materialized into reality.

When Babo became Ivan

Al-Qabas, Kuwait, June 23

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A video depicting a duo dancing on ice recently spread on social media, accompanied by a touching story about the male dancer, which supposedly brought tears to thousands of spectators. According to the post, the dancer, an Indian by the name of Babo, lost his eyesight as a kid when a fire broke out in the apartment he had lived in with his mother. Fearing for their lives, the mother held onto Babo and jumped out of the seventh-floor window. She died, but Babo survived. The doctors were able to save his life but not his vision. Shortly after healing, Babo began taking figure skating classes. Although he was blind, he was able to follow movements through voice and became a professional ice dancer. He competed in several dance competitions and won an award together with his skating partner more than once. 

Because the story became so viral and contained a lot of jarring facts, I decided to look into it. After a quick Internet search, it became immediately clear to me that it contains a lot of blatant errors and omissions. It turns out that the dancer’s name isn’t Babo but rather Ivan. He’s a Russian who has never visited India before. In fact, he has perfect vision and has never had a single bone fractured in his body. And, yes, his mother is still alive.

So the inevitable question that we must ask ourselves is: Who is in charge of this blatant misinformation? Who spends so much time and energy compiling videos of this kind, fabricating stories, distorting reality and packaging it up for people to consume? Undoubtedly, this can only be done by intelligence agencies or state actors.

 OTHERS SUGGESTED Ashraf brought her death upon herself because she wasn’t veiled.  (credit: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images) OTHERS SUGGESTED Ashraf brought her death upon herself because she wasn’t veiled. (credit: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

But what is their ultimate goal? Is it intended to waste our time reading, criticizing and discussing the contents of such posts? Is it intended to mislead us? This specific video is just an example but there are millions of other similar cases out there. Frankly, I’m really tired of these misinformation campaigns, even if they seem benign. We have become so gullible, consuming and believing everything we read online as if it is the gospel. Therefore, it is our duty to consume online content with caution, stop promoting such stories, and refrain from sharing them with others.

Believe me: There will be no harm done to anyone by not forwarding yet another video to an entire WhatsApp group we’re members of. – Ahmed Al-Sarraf 

America’s return to the Middle East

Al-Ittihad, UAE, June 22

Ever since 2011, when former president Barack Obama decided to withdraw all US forces from Iraq, the United States has been on a larger path of separating itself from the Middle East. The withdrawal from Iraq was followed by the withdrawal from Afghanistan and America’s pivot to Southeast Asia. Of course, there were voices within the American political system that spoke out against this decision. Harry Reid, the Democratic Senate majority leader from 2007 to 2015, welcomed Obama’s announcement at that time, and said: “The officials in Iran should know that the spring that bloomed in this Middle East is about to blossom in their country as well.” 

Meanwhile, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham warned of the dangers of this unilateral withdrawal and expressed his fears that “this decision will result in situations that will re-affect our country.” Graham’s vision was the one that unfortunately materialized into reality. It seems as if the goal of the US military presence in the Middle East is to maintain energy security, oil production and supply and US interests in general. The Arabs had no problem with the US withdrawal but they were keen on developing strategic partnerships and alliances consisting of mutual assurances, similar to those that exist among those between NATO members. 

Therefore, the Arab world in general, and Gulf states in particular, turned to other powers for cooperation. One of the first tests came with the outbreak of the Russo-Ukrainian War and its impact on the energy market. Saudi Arabia and the UAE refused to politicize their oil production. They also refused to engage in political polarization and insisted, instead, on promoting a balanced position that called for peace and contributed to humanitarian relief. This is what I believe caused the US administration to carefully reconsider its policy toward the region. 

It is expected that President Joe Biden’s upcoming visit to the region will usher in a new era of Arab-American relations. The decision of King Salman bin Abdulaziz to enhance the Gulf Cooperation Council summit –which Biden is expected to attend – to include Egypt, Jordan and Iraq is a testament to the unity of the Arab world. 

In the upcoming summit, it is likely that President Biden will discuss the global energy markets, the role of the Arab and Gulf states in it and the repercussions of the war in Ukraine on the price of oil. The Arab states, in turn, will want to understand where the US is headed with Iran, following the collapse of the nuclear talks in Vienna. – Riad Naasan Agha

The killing of an innocent woman in Mansoura

Al-Ahram, Egypt, June 24

The brutal killing of Naira Ashraf, a 21-year-old student at Mansoura University, has sent shock waves across the Arab world. Ashraf was fatally stabbed in broad daylight, on her way back from school, by a man whose advances she rejected. What increases the tragedy of this treacherous murder is the fact that some voices within Egypt decided to side with the killer instead of the innocent victim. There were some sympathizers, for example, who claimed that Ashraf was “arrogant” for not giving her killer a chance and that, had she done so, she would have saved herself from her tragic fate. 

Similarly, others suggested that Ashraf brought her death upon herself because she wasn’t veiled. According to this theory, a woman who doesn’t practice modesty isn’t worthy of grief and sorrow. Even though we describe these opinions as fringe voices in society, they are still extremely dangerous. We must not condone violence as a means to impose others’ ideas. We must protect our society from these fanatics who seek to force their views upon us. The danger is that there are those who tolerate violence against women and find justifications for hitting girls and daughters in an effort to “educate” them. We’ve even seen cases of women being beaten by men from other households who took it upon themselves to intervene in another family’s affairs and “tame” the women they know. 

All of this must come to an end. We must have a zero-tolerance policy toward these heinous acts before they become heinous crimes like the one we’ve witnessed in Mansoura. – Ahmed Abdel Tawab

Localize these professions

Okaz, Saudi Arabia, June 26

Human Resources and Social Development Minister Ahmed Al-Rajhi recently issued a directive to “localize” a number of professions and roles and ensure that they are filled by Saudi nationals. For example, according to the new decision, 60% of airline pilots and 100% of co-pilots employed by Saudi carriers must be Saudi nationals. It is unreasonable that Saudi pilots will be unemployed because they cannot find work while Saudi companies employ pilots from other countries. The list contains other professions in the area of health, transportation, logistics and vehicle inspection.

Along with the directive, the ministry issued procedural guidelines informing employers of the new regulations, ways to calculate the quotas, and penalties that will be imposed upon violators. While the move received some pushback, there is nothing wrong with a government seeking to provide priority in employment to its own citizens over citizens of other nations. 

The goal ultimately is to reduce national unemployment rates and provide greater opportunities for citizens to reach social and financial stability. Saudis, both men and women, have demonstrated their competence in carrying out a wide variety of jobs and professions. There is no reason not to help them find employment opportunities within their own country.

Of course, the goal is not to train our local workforce in all the skills and expertise needed to fuel our economy. Some reliance on external labor and foreign experts is certainly helpful and even healthy. However, there are many jobs that currently rely on the employment of foreign citizens that could easily be given to Saudi nationals. These professions should be localized. – Khaled Al-Sulaiman

Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb.