Voices from the Arab press: A lesson in humanity from Great Britain

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

 UK CONSERVATIVE PARTY candidate Rishi Sunak speaks at a campaign event in Grantham, Britain, July 23. (photo credit: PETER NICHOLLS/REUTERS)
UK CONSERVATIVE PARTY candidate Rishi Sunak speaks at a campaign event in Grantham, Britain, July 23.
(photo credit: PETER NICHOLLS/REUTERS)

A lesson in humanity from Great Britain

Al Qabas, Kuwait, July 19

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Rishi Sunak, who has emerged as the heir apparent to outgoing British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, is the son of two Indian immigrants. Despite the notable ethnic and religious differences between Sunak and his colleagues in the Conservative Party, the 42-year-old politician succeeded in becoming a prominent figure in Parliament, culminating in his service as chancellor of the exchequer from 2020 to 2022, the most important position after prime minister. Sunak was born in Southampton, educated at Winchester College, then studied philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford University, and subsequently obtained an MBA from Stanford University, where he met his wife, Akshata Murthy, the daughter of NR Narayana Murthy, a well-known Indian businessman. After graduation, Sunak worked at Goldman Sachs, and later became a partner at a few hedge funds. Finally, in 2015, he got involved in politics and was elected to Parliament, where he worked in Theresa May’s government as a deputy minister and promoted Brexit. 

Sunak supported the election of Johnson as the leader of the Conservative Party and was appointed as under secretary of the Treasury. He resigned after his differences with his boss deepened over economic policy, and announced his candidacy to lead the Conservative Party. If elected to lead the party, Sunak will become the first Brit of Indian origin to hold the position of prime minister. This will be a great civil and historical event, and a slap in the face of extremists and racists. Even if he isn’t ultimately chosen, it is still impressive that he made it this far. Here, in the Arab world, we often maintain a condescending attitude toward immigrants. Sunak’s rise to power is a reminder that the most modern and advanced societies should welcome voices and experiences that differ from those in the mainstream. Perhaps we can learn something from British society, and work to make our own countries less racist, tribal and dogmatic – and learn to embrace humanity first and foremost. – Ahmed Al-Sarraf

 SAUDI CROWN PRINCE Mohammed bin Salman and US President Joe Biden gesture stand for a ‘family photo’ ahead of the Jeddah Security and Development Summit in Saudi Arabia, July 16.  (credit: BANDAR ALGALOUD/COURTESY OF SAUDI ROYAL COURT/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS) SAUDI CROWN PRINCE Mohammed bin Salman and US President Joe Biden gesture stand for a ‘family photo’ ahead of the Jeddah Security and Development Summit in Saudi Arabia, July 16. (credit: BANDAR ALGALOUD/COURTESY OF SAUDI ROYAL COURT/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
Tehran’s summit in the wake of the Jeddah summit

Asharq Al-Awsat, London, July 21

It is not a coincidence that Iran was in a hurry to hold a regional summit between the leaders of Russia, Iran and Turkey during the same week in which US President Joe Biden participated in an Arab summit hosted by Saudi Arabia in Jeddah. It is an act of desperation, after the mullahs gave up hope that their coveted nuclear deal would come to fruition under the Biden administration. Biden found that the old nuclear agreement lost its value over time, and that the Iranian regime hardened its position. It is typical for Tehran to fall behind. When Biden extended open hands to Iran with the hope of reaching a new deal, Tehran played hardball and demanded more, such as removing the Revolutionary Guards from the terrorist list. This was not possible. This is how the negotiations collapsed, and Iran was sidelined again. Two days ago, former Iranian president Hassan Rouhani blamed the Iranian parliament, saying: “We could have lifted the sanctions against our country in March 2021, had it not been for the parliament’s decision on the nuclear file.” Rouhani was indirectly criticizing the supreme leader, who is directly responsible for the nuclear talks. 

Accordingly, Iran held the summit to send the message that it isn’t isolated. But this is of course nothing more than trickery. Turkey is a member of NATO, and it has developed its relations with the Gulf states and Israel. It does not want confrontations, and Erdogan is seeking to solve his country’s difficult economic crisis. Russia, in turn, will not find in the economically and politically exhausted Tehran regime anything that serves its interests, whether in its most pressing issues, such as the Ukraine war, the oil market, investments or diplomatic mediation. It is not in Russia’s interest to jeopardize its relations with large countries such as the Arab Gulf states, Egypt and Jordan in exchange for a relationship with Iran. These countries, despite their agreement with the United States, haven’t closed the door to cooperation with Moscow, and have taken a neutral position on the Ukraine conflict. Iran may be keen to appear as a strong and non-isolated state, but reality remains very different. The Tehran regime sought to persuade countries, such as India and Armenia, to participate, but was unsuccessful. Today, Iran is trying to use Russia and Turkey to pressure the US back to the negotiating table, but this effort won’t succeed. These countries may cooperate with Iran, but their cooperation remains modest. There is no reason for Russia and Turkey to form a hostile front against most of the countries in the region. – Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed  

Biden’s visit to the Arab world: Caution in assessment and expectations

An-Nahar, Lebanon, July 20

There is caution among observers of Gulf politics over the new American policy toward the region. This is the same America that chose to ostracize and isolate Saudi Arabia only to later seek to warm up its ties with the Gulf leader against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine and the strategic competition with China. It is known that the Biden administration made major mistakes in its relations with its historical allies in the region, which came in the context of the legacy of the era of former president Barack Obama and his strange bias toward what was called the “Iranian option” – that is, the ability to reach a nuclear agreement with Iran. The rapprochement with Iran was reminiscent of the policy of former US president Richard Nixon and his secretary of state Henry Kissinger toward China, known as the détente, which constituted a historical turning point in international relations. There is caution in evaluating the results of President Biden’s visit to the region because it remains difficult to assess the credibility of the current US administration, as well as previous administrations in the past 10 years, with regard to its policies in the region. The United States tended to view its Middle East allies as mere pawns in its greater geopolitical struggles. 

Today, however, the matter has changed, and America’s Middle East allies have become political powers in their own right. The region is no longer subjected to the monopoly of Western decision-making, although those countries that are allies of the United States have always considered Washington their first and most important strategic ally. The key difference is that Washington is no longer their only strategic ally or partner in the world. The behavior of successive US administrations, including that of former president Donald Trump, prompted the major allies to think about diversifying their relations, friendships, alliances and foreign partnerships according to their own interests. President Biden’s intention was to fix his country’s flawed relations with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and even Israel, but he encountered new kinds of leaders who espouse their own reading of their interests and priorities. He also found ruling elites in the region different from the image that the West has historically formed, especially America, according to the “Hollywood” culture we know. 

America’s credibility in the region declined. The behavior of the Obama and Biden administrations regarding the Iran and the Afghanistan files served as a wake-up call for the countries of the region. Hence, the Arab Middle East reading of the results of the visit were very cautious, and Arab leaders refrained from putting all of their eggs in one basket. Furthermore, Biden’s term is nearing its halfway mark, with the midterm elections for Congress just around the corner. Approval ratings for Biden according to major polling institutes are very low, reaching 30%. This reality reflects the fact that the administration is weak. In this case, it is difficult for major countries in a tumultuous region of the world to consider the current US discourse as a reassuring one. Experience has shown that America’s Middle East allies tend to be let down due to fluctuations in policies caused by changing administrations every four or eight years. Hence, there is extreme caution in approaching the renewed relationship with America. – Ali Hamada

Reasons for optimism in the world around us

Al-Masry Al-Youm, Egypt, July 19

I know that talking about optimism these days is not a wise idea, and at a time when inflation rates are rising globally, and supply chains are being disrupted, pessimism has been on the rise. The pandemic and the seemingly endless war in Ukraine spread misery and despair among all of us. However, there are also objective reasons to celebrate the good in our world and positive things that are happening around us. I recently came across an article titled “Why disasters are getting more severe but killing fewer people.” The article, written by Umair Irfan, examines how impacts of climate change – things like high temperatures, floods, fires and natural disasters – have increased by more than fivefold in the last 50 years, and yet the number of deaths they have inflicted has fallen by two-thirds during the same period of time. This is a remarkable achievement for humankind, which has developed technologies and coping mechanisms to reduce the number of deaths.

The article doesn’t cover scientific advances in the fight against COVID-19, but here, too, we’ve made tremendous progress. Following three years of the pandemic, the number of deaths inflicted by COVID-19 is still significantly lower than deaths caused by the Spanish flu a century ago. Indeed, before the end of this year, the population of Earth will exceed eight billion people – a figure that once made experts believe we would run out of resources and food, but today seems entirely reasonable. 

A study I came across a few years ago indicated that it is possible for all of humanity, nearly seven billion people at the time, to live in the US state of Texas alone. The idea here is that the important thing is that the social, economic and political organization is effective and simple so that it accommodates and organizes people’s lives in a way that makes them exploit physical spaces with great capacity.

Furthermore, nanotechnology has enabled us to make things smaller and simpler, making our use of space ever more efficient and effective. Just think of today’s smartphone, which is an order of magnitude “smarter” than the computer that supported the flight of Apollo to the moon, which took up over two rooms. By the way, this optimistic outlook also applies to Egypt, where the pandemic didn’t cause a significant increase in death rates. 

However, pessimism exists because life has become more complicated and the degree of government bureaucracy has become unbearable. In Egypt, the number of laws in our code book reached 68,000 titles. We are subjected to an infinite number of regulations, rules and decrees. At the present time, our legislative institutions are focused on amending existing laws in ways that don’t actually make them simpler. Therefore, to allow our people to live happier and more productive lives, our government must simplify employment and production. This will help us boost our productivity and grow our national resources. Now is the time to part ways with complexity and give way to simplification. – Abd Al-Moneim Said 

Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb.