Voices from the Arab press: Russia’s image in the world

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

 EDWARD GIBBON, author of ‘The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.’ (photo credit: PICRYL)
EDWARD GIBBON, author of ‘The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.’
(photo credit: PICRYL)

Russia’s image in the world

Al-Masry Al-Youm, Egypt, August 26

For more stories from The Media Line go to themedialine.org

Despite the international sanctions imposed on it, Russia has succeeded in its war of depriving the world of oil, gas and wheat. However, it failed miserably in its attempt to salvage its global reputation.

In its latest act of defiance, Russia released an online campaign aimed at trolling the West. The campaign consists of a short video inviting Europeans to immigrate to Russia, where there is cheap gas, cheap oil and cheap transportation, beautiful weather, rich history and beautiful women. The video concludes by appealing to Europeans and telling them that vodka is ready, electricity is cheap, and winter is coming.

Notably, the Russian video omitted several important elements. For example, it mentioned nothing about education in Russia, nor the ranking and classification of its universities, which face a continuous decline. Unlike America and Europe, which boasts the best universities in the world, Russian higher education is dismal.

Similarly, the video made no reference to human rights or freedom of speech in Russia, which is light years behind the West when it comes to basic freedoms.

 A SOMALI soldier stands guard next to the site where al-Shabaab terrorists carried out a suicide attack against a military intelligence base in Mogadishu, 2015.  (credit: Mohamed Abdiwahab/AFP via Getty Images) A SOMALI soldier stands guard next to the site where al-Shabaab terrorists carried out a suicide attack against a military intelligence base in Mogadishu, 2015. (credit: Mohamed Abdiwahab/AFP via Getty Images)

Neither Russia nor China is fit to lead the world, even if life there is dirt cheap. People will still choose America and Europe, even if life in those places is difficult and expensive. Russia’s reputation will remain negative, no matter how many insulting campaigns it releases online. The image of countries like Russia and China won’t change overnight.

America and Europe have many problems, but they both share one common truth: a president and a citizen are both equal before the law.

Neither Russia nor China tried to change its image among the peoples of the world. Even if Russia offers incentives like vodka, cheap gas and beautiful women, it will never attract visitors and immigrants as Europe and the United States do. – Mohamed Amin

When leaders forget that they're made of flesh and blood

Al Mada, Iraq, August 26

I can’t recall the number of times I’ve read The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, written by English historian and member of parliament Edward Gibbon in the 18th century.

I remember the first time I encountered the six-volume work in the early 1980s, when my professor, Abd al-Rahman Tahmazi, shared it with me. At that time, I couldn’t even get through the first volume. I felt dizzy just by reading it and tracking the chronicles of the Roman Empire.

However, with time, I managed to get through more and more of the text. I discovered the meaning of the stories depicted in Gibbon’s work and the lessons that nations must learn from them.

Perhaps one of Gibbon’s most fundamental takeaways was that the Roman Empire fell when the ruler proclaimed that everything he does is in the name of law, and insisted on enslaving his people and quelling their ambitions under the banner of patriotism and nationalism.

Indeed, even in the 21st century, countries fall when rulers open the doors for abuse, marginalization, exclusion and killing.

Conversely, when leaders believe that freedom and security are fundamental rights, when they view themselves as servants of the people, their nations prosper.

For too many years, the people of Iraq were waiting for the end of the dictatorship era. The cost of tyranny reached hundreds of thousands of victims. Many lost their lives, while many others remained alive only to live in poverty and despair.

As we all know, there is nothing greater than a leader who fosters the principles of dialogue and reconciliation as an alternative to the language of violence and revenge. But that hasn’t been the case for Iraq.

Let me return to Gibbon and his famous work on the Roman Empire, which tells us that the real danger for any country is a ruler who thinks he knows everything, and then claims for himself the right to enslave others.

Nations fall when people find themselves silenced; when they are sold empty promises about glory and wealth; and when their biggest fears are manipulated and extorted.

Above all, nations fall when their leaders forget that they’re human beings made of flesh and blood. – Ali Hussein 

Al-Shabab and the dream of a caliphate in Africa

An-Nahar, Lebanon, August 24

A new terrorist organization – an offshoot of al-Qaeda – is making strides in the African continent.

Ever since the assassination of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri at the end of July, several terrorist groups in Africa publicly pledged their allegiance to al-Qaeda. The reason behind it is twofold: first, to send a clear message to the world that al-Qaeda is still strong even after the death of its leader, and second that al-Qaeda is ready to return to the forefront of the jihadi scene, after it had been overshadowed by ISIS.

The Somali-based Mujahideen Youth Movement, often referred to as al-Shabaab, is al-Qaeda’s largest affiliate in Africa. Some experts believe that it has funding that exceeds the resources available to the Somali government itself. This allows it to carry out military operations inside Somalia, as well as deep inside Ethiopian and Kenyan territory.

Al-Shabaab was established in 2006, and was part of the Islamic Courts Union before it split from it, after the courts joined the Somali Opposition Alliance. At one point, it succeeded in controlling nearly 90% of Somali lands.

However, the interim government in Somalia succeeded in weakening the movement and expelling it from the capital city of Mogadishu in 2011. Since then, the movement retreated to rural areas, where it established its strongholds.

Since then, the movement has been waging a multi-sided war, whether against the Somali government or the countries that support it.

This explains the reason for the military operation carried out by the movement a few weeks ago, when it succeeded in besieging the Hayat Hotel in Mogadishu for 30 hours, holding a number of hostages. The Somali government was able to eventually free these hostages and kill the movement’s fighters. The movement’s goal was certainly to kill members of the Federal Government of Somalia, who chose this hotel as a meeting place.

Intelligence reports indicate that the movement’s funding exceeds $15 million each month, and that it obtains most of its money through attacks, acts of piracy in the Gulf of Eden, and taxes collected in the regions it controls.

The movement’s fighters number about 10,000 men, according to intelligence estimates. 

Most of the movement’s members receive their training on Eritrean soil. The easy and unregulated movement of people between the borders of most African countries has allowed al-Shabaab to prosper. It has also allowed it to establish close ties with the Boko Haram terrorist organization in Nigeria.

The US made the mistake of withdrawing its force, numbering about 700 men, from Somalia during the administration of former president Barack Obama. However, the Biden administration revised this position and redeployed the soldiers last May. This might be too late, since the vacuum created by the departure of US forces only strengthened local extremist movements.

Al-Shabaab believes that Africa is the most suitable and convenient continent to establish the dream of the next Islamic caliphate. Its goal is to identify partner organizations in each African country that would allow it to grow its foothold and build up its power, without attracting scrutiny from local authorities. – Mounir Adib

France is playing the Iranian card to restore its international influence

Asharq al-Awsat, London, August 22

A high-ranking official close to French President Emmanuel Macron recently revealed that the latter has a strong conviction that France, whose global influence has been on the decline in recent decades, has a unique window of opportunity to restore its global power by serving as the key gateway to Iran.

According to this source, France believes that, following the lifting of the sanctions on the Iranian regime, France can play a pivotal role in the rehabilitation of the Iranian economy, taking the place of other countries like China, India and Russia. This is primarily due to Macron’s good relationships with the Iranian regime and the fact that he will serve for another six years following his reelection.

This is the reason for which France has always taken the initiative to find solutions and remove obstacles between Iran and the United States, both in public and behind the scenes.

The official also indicated that Macron believes that importing Iranian oil and gas is the only way for Europe to succeed in maintaining its sanctions on Russia, following the invasion of Ukraine.

Indeed, French diplomats have doubled down on their efforts to convince other European countries of the necessity of reaching a new nuclear agreement with Iran that would pave the way for the removal of all international sanctions.

It’s possible that the French position represents the view of most EU member states, who have a real fear of oil and gas prices this coming winter, following the suspension of Russian production. The rise in energy prices has led to an increase in the inflation rate to nearly 10%, and it is expected to reach more than 22% in the middle of next year if a solution isn’t identified. This will exacerbate the demands of working-class Europeans to increase their basic income, which may send the European economy into a vicious circle with catastrophic results.

For these reasons, some experts believe that the Islamic Republic is in a superior position compared to Europe and the United States when it comes to reaching a new deal. There are so many global crises to deal with today that it would simply make sense for the West to put Iran’s nuclear program behind and flood the markets with oil, even if the nonnuclear crisis with Iran undoubtedly continues.

Sadly, those who oppose the deal will quickly realize that they lost the battle, since Europe’s interest in self-preservation outweighs any other consideration. Moral principles have no room in this equation, only considerations of money and power. – Huda al-Husseini

Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb.