Voices from the Arab press: Is the Biden admin. regaining popularity?

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

 INFLATION: SHOPPING for groceries in Brooklyn, New York. (photo credit: MICHAEL M. SANTIAGO/GETTY IMAGES)
INFLATION: SHOPPING for groceries in Brooklyn, New York.

Is the Biden administration regaining its popularity?

Al-Ittihad, UAE, August 12

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In April 2019, former Democratic vice president Joe Biden announced his intention to run for US president in 2020, in the hope of defeating outgoing president Donald Trump.

Although the fame he earned following decades of public service made Biden a natural candidate to lead the 2019 Democratic primaries, his performance at rallies was disappointing. He was badly defeated in the all-important February 2020 New Hampshire primary by three stronger candidates. At that point, Biden was given a small chance of winning the nomination.

But then came the South Carolina primary on February 29, in which he won a landslide victory thanks to the huge support he received from black Americans, including his close friend Rep. James Clyburn.

Biden’s victory in the November elections was decisive; he received more than 81 million votes nationally, the highest number in American history.

 US President Biden signs ratification of accession protocols to NATO for Finland and Sweden (credit: REUTERS/EVELYN HOCKSTEIN) US President Biden signs ratification of accession protocols to NATO for Finland and Sweden (credit: REUTERS/EVELYN HOCKSTEIN)

The first days of the Biden presidency were marked by a sense of relief. Trump, despite his efforts to overturn the election results, retreated to his Florida residence. And the effectiveness of the new COVID-19 vaccines finally reduced the number of Americans infected with the virus. Much of the Western world greeted Biden and his team with joy, especially America’s close allies in Europe and Asia. Moreover, the US economy was showing signs of recovery and growth.

However, by the summer of 2021, new events began to weaken Biden’s popularity both at home and abroad.

The newly emergent Delta variant began to have a significant impact on the American public, which had become fed up with social distancing and masking requirements.

Then, in August 2021, Biden suddenly announced the imminent withdrawal of all US forces from Afghanistan, against the recommendation of the army and without consultations with the rest of the NATO allies deployed in the region. The withdrawal was marked by immense chaos, but it was an effective strategy to remove American forces from the country, following a 20-year war. Biden, however, was harshly criticized for abandoning loyal Afghans who had worked with NATO and the United States. He was also unable to prevent the Taliban from taking over, despite the promises it made to the Americans at the Doha peace negotiations in February 2022.

Even more alarming for Biden was the imminent inflation, which reached historic levels and brought US gas prices to an all-time high. Americans began to lose faith in the economy, and Biden’s numbers in opinion polls fell even below those of Trump.

By the early days of the summer of 2022, Biden was described as a one-term president, and calls for him to be satisfied with only one term began to increase within the Democratic Party.

But then, within a few weeks, the bad news started to change. Thanks to a number of positive events, Biden managed to revive his much-criticized administration.

Economic data showed surprisingly strong growth with record-low levels of unemployment. Inflation also started to decline, as gasoline prices began to fall.

On July 30, the CIA killed Ayman al-Zawahiri, the architect of the 9/11 attacks on the United States, at his residence in Kabul, without causing any collateral casualties.

Most importantly, the Democrats are on the verge of passing the Inflation Reduction Act, which will allocate nearly $700 billion to combat climate change, reduce drug costs, and raise corporate taxes. Democrats hope that this good news will finally have an impact on voters ahead of the November midterm elections.

Yet, expectations are still that Republicans could win enough seats to assert control over the House of Representatives, but perhaps not enough to achieve the big landslide victory they had hoped for. Therefore, the Democrats now hope to maintain control over the Senate – an outcome that would certainly be considered positive. – Jeffrey Kemp

People want bread before gas

Al-Rai, Kuwait, August 10

The threats recently voiced by Hezbollah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah are nothing but empty words. They’ll achieve nothing.

Before Nasrallah threatens Israel and promotes himself as the defender of Lebanon and its natural resources, can he ask himself why his party – which is nothing more than a local branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps – does everything in its power to turn Lebanon into a poor and failed state, where people are begging for a loaf of bread?

The average Lebanese citizen wants a loaf of bread before he wants his government to extract gas from the ocean. Moreover, the ordinary Lebanese citizen understands that the Lebanese government needs many years to actually start extracting gas and benefiting from it.

Perhaps what the ordinary Lebanese citizen knows the most is that, in a matter of just a few weeks, Israel will start extracting gas from the Karish field and export it to Europe. This will happen with the full support and blessing of other countries in the region, including Egypt, and under the auspices of European and American heads of state, who are craving to import Israeli gas in light of the crisis with Russia. For quite some time now, Israel has been extracting gas from other fields located far away from Lebanese waters, in light of the increasing global need for energy and European insistence on gradually eliminating their dependence on Russian gas. Indeed, Israeli gas has become part of Europe’s security doctrine. Israel will export more gas to Europe once the Karish field is ready to be used.

On the other hand, Lebanon will stand idly by and observe these events unfold. The Lebanese government will continue to dig its head in the sand and talk about things like “pride” and “dignity” and the importance of the “resistance” but will do nothing for the betterment of its citizens. Nasrallah will continue to make empty threats by chanting slogans aimed at Israel.

But the reality is that the Lebanese people will continue to be impoverished and stripped of its dignity. Many Lebanese will not be able to afford bread or electricity. Their country’s education and healthcare system will continue to falter and fail.

Nasrallah’s threats do nothing but weaken the Lebanese people even further. Lebanon will remain unable to take any step aimed at benefiting from its wealth at sea. Lebanon is collapsing more and more daily. The country is destroying itself, and no one can prevent it from doing so. The world tried to help Lebanon, but to no avail.

At a time when Israel, supported by the international community, seems determined to exploit gas in Karish, Lebanon seems determined to continue to follow the logic of irrationality by warmly embracing Iran.

There is no force, at least in the foreseeable future, that can take Beirut out of this situation, which means a death sentence to the Lebanese state. The threats issued by Hezbollah are of no use except for the fact that they shed light on the ignorance that exists in our region of the world. – Kheirallah Kheirallah

The Gaza war: What Israel wants and what the Palestinians are doing

Annahar Al Arabi, Lebanon, August 11

This last round of fighting in the Gaza Strip was yet another aggressive attack launched by Israel against innocent civilians held in an open-air prison, similar to the ones it previously waged in 2008, 2012, 2014 and 2021.

Since withdrawing from the Gaza Strip in 2005 and the rise of Hamas to power in 2007, Israel has declared the Gaza Strip a “hostile entity” and launched several wars against Hamas and Islamic Jihad. In the process, more than 5,000 Palestinians were killed, tens of thousands were wounded, infrastructure was destroyed, and more than 50,000 homes were destroyed.

The Gaza Strip is home to two million Palestinians, who live in insanely difficult circumstances, due to the scarcity of resources and because of the siege imposed on them by Israel for 15 years.

Therefore, before talking about the Israeli political implications of all these wars, we should explain the reasons that led to Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

The first is the strip’s lack of natural resources and a high population density, which placed a heavy burden on Israel.

The second is that through its “withdrawal,” Israel sent a misleading and evasive message about its willingness to compromise with the Palestinians, portraying itself as if it is willing to make territorial concessions in exchange for peace.

The third is that the strip is home to some two million Palestinians, which would pose a huge demographic threat to Israeli society.

The fourth is that the withdrawal sparked internal rivalry among the Palestinian factions and allowed Israel to send a clear message to the world that the Palestinians are “not ready” to govern themselves.

In general, in all of its policies toward the Palestinian people – through settlement, expansion, population displacement, home demolitions, killings, arrests and sieges – Israel seeks to impose its own version of the conflict, and subsequently kill the spirit of resistance among the Palestinian people.

As for the Palestinians, despite Israel’s military might and its superiority over them in all respects, all of this doesn’t seem to weaken their faith in their cause, as is evidenced by the continuation of their resistance in all forms and means, one intifada after another.

However, the dilemma on the Palestinian side is whether this resistance, which has been carried on for a century, has actually translated into tangible results on the ground.

The Palestinians, in their long, tortuous and complicated conflict with Israel, are confronted with two basic dilemmas.

First, they cannot change the balance of power in their own favor, because the only real military power that can threaten Israel would be another Arab state. The last time a regular Arab army fought against Israel on the Palestinians’ behalf took place over six decades ago.

Second, despite their sacrifices and heroism, the Palestinians unfortunately cannot translate any of their resistance into practical gains or achievements.

The Palestinians of Gaza live in a large prison and suffer from severe poverty and scarcity of resources. Unfortunately, their suffering – be it human, material or moral – is still not commensurate with the desired returns.

While Israel has become more developed, strong and stable, the Palestinian people are experiencing ever-growing havoc.

In short, the Palestinians may benefit from the realization that, in these unfavorable circumstances, after all of the experiences they have gone through, they don’t need to prove that they’re brave, self-sacrificing and dignified people, as much as they need to prove to themselves and others that they are also capable of transforming their suffering into political achievements.

It is obvious that this requires changing the outdated political equation, which they have been clinging to and working on for nearly half a century. – Majed Kayali 

Are we serious?!

Al-Masry Al-Youm, Egypt, August 13

Last week, the Egyptian government announced a strict plan to ration energy consumption on streets and in public buildings. Based on the announcement, all outdoor lighting – including in government buildings, public squares, streets and main roads – will be cut at 11 p.m. In addition, all shopping malls and stores will have to close by that time.

My response to this announcement is plain and simple: Are we serious?!

Has our government actually considered the negative impact this decision would have on tourism in our country? Have any studies or evaluations been done to assess the impact of such a decision on Egypt’s tourism industry and, consequently, the lost income to our economy?

And putting tourism aside, has any study been performed to quantify the money our government would actually save by dimming the lights in public areas? Were the minister of tourism, alongside other officials and experts, surveyed before making the decision?

If any of this happened, and if there are serious scientific studies, then it is our right to see the data and understand the decision-making process.

Given all of these factors, the big question still remains: Are we actually serious, as a country, about the promotion of tourism? Are we actually committed to identifying and implementing strategies that would bring more tourists into Egypt each and every year?

We see countries around us that have decided to increase the number of tourists visiting them by a factor of over a dozen. Skeptics described these governments’ plans as “fantasy,” but when ambitious plans were put on paper, we started seeing extremely positive trends in inbound tourists. These governments made sure to streamline and improve the entire tourist experience – from arriving at the airport, to traveling in-country, to departing safely and securely.

Understanding the biggest obstacles standing in our way of becoming a tourist attraction doesn’t require insane effort. It simply requires us to map out the entire journey experienced by visitors, from the moment they arrive at the airport to the moment they leave – including the transactions, accommodations, transportation and attractions they engage with. Articulating this journey will immediately reveal our biggest obstacles.

But in the meantime, one thing is clear: We don’t need to create additional reasons for tourists to stay away from Egypt, such as dimming all lights in public areas each and every night. – Abdel Latif el-Menawy

Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb.