Voices from the Arab press: President Joe Biden’s visit and the Arab world

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

 THE SECOND reign of Faisal bin Turki Al Saud overlapped with the period in which Abraham Lincoln headed the US.  (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
THE SECOND reign of Faisal bin Turki Al Saud overlapped with the period in which Abraham Lincoln headed the US.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

President Joe Biden’s visit and the Arab world

Asharq Al-Awsat, London, July 15

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The current visit of US President Joe Biden and his top aides to Israel, the West Bank and then to Saudi Arabia, will have significant effects on the region. Judging on the basis of the announcements and remarks made so far on the visit, what we’re witnessing is an exciting transformation in Washington’s relations with the Arab world.

The Democratic Party, led by Biden, seems to have reconsidered its approach when it comes to strategic issues impacting the Middle East. In response to a question posed to him by Al Arabiya and Al Hadath journalists, Biden reaffirmed, with the Israeli prime minister by his side, that “Washington will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.”

The president then continued on to explain that, in his view, “Iran must accept the nuclear agreement that has been put on the table.” Furthermore, the president signed a written commitment, known as the Jerusalem Declaration, in which he vowed to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

 DISNEY NOW includes LGBTQ characters in its children’s films. (credit: Joel Sutherland/Unsplash) DISNEY NOW includes LGBTQ characters in its children’s films. (credit: Joel Sutherland/Unsplash)

Biden also pledged to intensify cooperation with Tel Aviv in order to use all means necessary to stop Iran from its continuing terrorist activity in the region. All of this took place in the first part of President Biden’s tour in the Middle East. What remains to be seen now is how the American president will handle the Arab security files upon his visit to Saudi Arabia.

Biden’s visit to Jeddah was preceded by a series of internal meetings and summits between Arab states in the Gulf and beyond. Indeed, the level of coordination between the moderate Arab states is unprecedented, forcing the American Democratic Party to double down on its commitment to protect and promote the security of the Arab world.

Will the Democratic Party turn a page in its relations with the Arab world in general and Saudi Arabia in particular? It seems as if global events changed Biden’s calculus as it pertains to the Middle East. Enthusiastic slogans are impressive, but when the rubber meets the road and war is waging on Europe’s eastern border, practical considerations triumph over moral ones. That’s the real essence of politics. – Meshary Al-Dhaidy

The 18 Saudis who participated in the American Civil War

Okaz, Saudi Arabia, July 12

It seems as if the relationship between the Saudis and the Americans is older and deeper than what many researchers and scholars tend to believe. In fact, it goes back, according to some historians, to 1861, during the American Civil War. Back in the day, US President Abraham Lincoln and his team were struggling to restore the unity of their country and wage war against the Confederacy.

The second reign of Faisal bin Turki Al Saud, from 1843 to 1865, overlapped the period during which Lincoln headed the US, from 1861 to 1865. At the time, the Second Saudi State was flourishing, and trade was booming between Nejd and the Levant. Camel caravans traveled up and down the Arab Peninsula, carrying goods, merchandise, food and spices.

When Abraham Lincoln and his army realized they were incapable of conquering the seceding states, they looked for alternative ways to transfer weapons and equipment to and from the frontlines. Therefore, the American Army sent a delegation to Australia, which was known for raising camels, and then to Baghdad, which was famous for being the most important camel market in the world.

The American delegation arrived in Baghdad and discovered that the best camels were the Najdi camels. Indeed, they bought about 800 camels from the merchants who had just come from Saudi lands to sell their camels in the Baghdad markets. But they didn’t just stop there; the Americans also contracted with 18 Saudi men who are skilled camel breeders, to travel back with them to America.

The Saudi men made the journey across the world, where they helped establish the US Camel Corps. They trained American soldiers on how to transfer equipment by camelback, and maintained the health and vitality of the camels. In doing so, they contributed to the birth of the current America. In fact, during the operation, three of the Saudis found their deaths and 15 survived. Most of them were honored with the establishment of memorials, at least one of which still exists under the name “Tomb of Hi Jolly” (or “Hadji Ali”) in the state of Arizona.

This story is a reminder that the relationship between the two countries, the US and Saudi Arabia, rests on far more than just oil and weapons, as some people try to portray. The blood of the Saudis and the Americans are mixed on the soil of each of them, and contributed to preserving their security and independence, even before the emergence of oil.

The US was and still is a favorite destination for Saudis, especially those looking for superior education, and the Saudi state contributed to this from an early age by sending hundreds of thousands of its leading researchers to study at American institutions. Eighteen Saudi camel trainers who came from the depths of the desert and worked for the American army a century and a half ago contributed to the journey of the American people toward their future civilization, whose superiority we witness today.

It is an undeniable history, a mutually beneficial relationship, and an overlap of interests between two allied nations. – Mohammed Al-Saed

We need Arab cartoons to compete with Disney

Al-Watan, Kuwait, July 14

In March of this year, Disney announced its new policy for children’s films, according to which it would include LGBTQ figures as main characters. The problem, of course, is that Disney films are extremely popular across the Arab world, where children religiously follow and mimic the films’ leads.

This is a dangerous matter that must be addressed sooner rather than later, just like it has been addressed in Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis passed legislation prohibiting teaching things like gender identity and sexual orientation to children younger than 10.

Over the past few years, we’ve witnessed the banning of episodes of famous cartoon shows due to the fear that children would imitate dangerous behavior depicted in them. For example, a controversial episode of the children’s show Peppa Pig was pulled off the air in Australia after it depicted the main character playing with spiders, which are extremely venomous in the country.

Studies show that children younger than the age of five tend to imitate what they watch on television and struggle to discern what’s right from what’s wrong. Troubling behavior, such as a tendency for violence, aggression, phobias and even things like obesity, all tend to develop at this age. Therefore, putting controversial content in front of young children who still haven’t developed a sense of self-awareness and critical thinking is extremely dangerous.

The philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau notably explained that ideas are not born with people but are formed through experience and practice. Perhaps the time has come for the Arab world to develop, produce and manufacture its own safe Arab cartoons, which would compete with those made by Disney. After all, Egypt has been a producer of Arab films, including many for children, since the 1930s.

Investing in cartoons could be very profitable, with annual revenues of millions of dollars a year, in addition to royalties that can be collected by reviewing, editing, and localizing foreign children’s shows for consumption in the Arab world. – Badr Bin Saud

Lack of political accountability in the Arab world

An-Nahar, Lebanon, July 15

I often think about the stark differences between the practice of democracy in Western countries and its practice in the Arab world. Surely, the practice of democracy isn’t flawless in the West. However, the difference is that there, whenever a mistake is made, the political system quickly corrects itself. Meanwhile, in the Arab world, whenever an attempt is made to promote democracy, we encounter deliberate attempts to sabotage its implementation.

Take for example what is happening in Tunisia, a country that in many ways was a poster child – indeed, the only Arab state that emerged from the Arab Spring with minimal upheaval to its political system and society more broadly.

In 2014, the people of Tunisia adopted a constitution. The constitution was written with the help of local and international experts, while soliciting input and participation from all sectors of Tunisian society. It was very promising.

However, when the time came to implement the constitution, things fell apart. The political parties that came to power procrastinated in appointing the members of the newly formed Constitutional Court, which was supposed to be the body interpreting the constitution and ensuring a separation of power. This procrastination landed Tunisian society in the predicament we see before us.

In any Arab democratic experience, the problem is always with the culture that surrounds politicians and elites. The few Arab countries that have constitutional courts often use those courts to promote whatever decisions the ruling elite is interested in, under the veneer of the so-called rule of law. We all saw how the Constitutional Court in Egypt was besieged by Muslim Brotherhood members in December 2012, until its activity was suspended.

Take Lebanon as another example. The judicial investigation into the major disaster that occurred at the Port of Beirut in August 2020 has gone nowhere. The hearings have been suspended and no perpetrator has been identified, despite the fact that 218 people lost their lives in the incident.

Now, compare these events to what we see in the West. Take the example of Britain, where Prime Minister Boris Johnson immediately stepped down from his position after two of his leading ministers submitted their resignations. Johnson’s entire political party demanded political and moral accountability.

While we expect most respectable professions to require training or licensing prior to taking on a job, it seems as if the standards we have for our elected officials are far lower. Indeed, some of our politicians can barely read and write. They cling to each other, form close alliances and do anything they possibly can to hold onto their chair in parliament. In doing so, they lose accountability to the public, which they seemingly entered office to serve. – Mohammed Al-Rumaihi

Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb.