Voices from the Arab press: Che Guevara is dead... and so is Gorbachev

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

 SOVIET LEADER Mikhail Gorbachev and Cuban President Fidel Castro review the troops during welcoming ceremonies at Jose Marti Airport in Havana, April 2, 1989.  (photo credit: REUTERS)
SOVIET LEADER Mikhail Gorbachev and Cuban President Fidel Castro review the troops during welcoming ceremonies at Jose Marti Airport in Havana, April 2, 1989.
(photo credit: REUTERS)

Che Guevara is dead... and so is Gorbachev

Al-Masry Al-Youm, Egypt, September 3

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When Che Guevara, the famous Marxist revolutionary, died, Egypt’s Sheikh Imam wrote and composed a song in his honor titled “Guevara Died.” The song was an elegy for a man who devoted his life to the fight against colonialism and imperialist capitalist thought.

Two days ago, Mikhail Gorbachev, the former president of the Soviet Union, died. Unlike Che Guevara, no one sang for him. Even if Sheikh Imam were still living among us, it is hard to imagine that he would have dedicated a song to Gorbachev. And if he would have, it would have been no less satirical than the song he once dedicated to Nixon, “Nixon Baba,” which was full of mockery and disdain. But why?

The reason may be the final Gorbachev effect. Whereas Lenin was the first leader of the USSR, Gorbachev was the last. Lenin and Stalin built a great empire that represented one-sixth of the world. In contrast, Gorbachev demolished that empire in just a few years.

 MOHAMMAD AL-ISSA, secretary-general of the Muslim World League, and David Harris, CEO of the American Jewish Committee, visit the former Nazi concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz I in Oswiecim, Poland, January 23, 2020. (credit: KACPER PEMPEL/REUTERS) MOHAMMAD AL-ISSA, secretary-general of the Muslim World League, and David Harris, CEO of the American Jewish Committee, visit the former Nazi concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz I in Oswiecim, Poland, January 23, 2020. (credit: KACPER PEMPEL/REUTERS)

In his early years, Gorbachev was a tractor operator. He then studied law at Moscow State University and entered politics after his graduation. He soon rose to the helm of the Communist Party and became first party secretary in Stavropol Krai. In that role, he succeeded in improving the basic standard of living for workers.

In 1979, Gorbachev became the youngest member of the Politburo. He was elected as the general secretary of the Communist Party by the Politburo in 1985, and aimed to bring change and reform to the party and the state economy by introducing the concepts of openness, economic restructuring and democracy. He tried to increase the efficiency of the Soviet bureaucracy, introduced many technical developments aimed at increasing productivity and reducing the amount of waste, and launched an anti-alcohol campaign.

During his presidency, Gorbachev stressed the importance of peaceful international relations, not only playing a pivotal role in ending the Cold War, but also playing a key role in facilitating the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany.

His two key policies were glasnost, a policy of maximum openness and transparency, and perestroika, which described the restructuring of the Soviet political and economic system.

It wasn’t comfortable for Gorbachev to attempt to establish new economic, social and political systems. His series of changes ultimately ended with the disintegration of the Soviet Union, which paved the way for American dominance.

After stepping down, Gorbachev disappeared from the public sphere until 1997, when he made a reappearance in a commercial to promote the American Pizza Hut chain. This came as a great shock, given the fact that the chain represents a consumerist Western culture that contradicts the principles of Soviet socialism. The advertisement wasn’t just propaganda, but, rather, a declaration of the victory of capitalism over socialism. The old Gorbachev appeared in the advertisement as he accompanied his grandson to eat pizza in one of the restaurants of the American company, a symbol of Western imperialism, which represents the success of the West in imposing its cultural hegemony. In the advertisement, the presence of the old man sparked a controversy among the restaurant’s patrons, with some speaking against Gorbachev’s political actions, and others lauding it.

After that, Gorbachev received a good number of offers to shoot additional commercials, and he participated in a number of them in order to earn money. However, his legacy within Russia remained controversial at best, and he remained a polarizing political figure until his death. –Abdel Latif el-Menawy

The spirit of Huntington still prevails in Libya and Iraq

Al-Ittihad, UAE, September 2

Last week, Dr. Mohammad Al-Issa, the secretary general of the Muslim World League, gave the keynote address at the Rimini Forum, a gathering of European youth attended by more than one million people.

At the core of his speech, Issa criticized Samuel Huntington’s theory of the inevitable clash of civilizations, warning that “knowledge without values has created extremist theories.” Issa made it clear in his lecture that the “alliance of civilizations,” based on our common humanity, is what human relations should revolve around. Integration between different cultures is the shortest and easiest – indeed, the only – way to further the prosperity and development in the world.

In 1993, Huntington shared his theory of the Clash of Civilizations in a short article in an American magazine. The article instantly became viral, leading to Huntington’s writing of a book in 1996 under the same title.

Perhaps it was no coincidence that the article and the book were published during the era in which Democrats sat in the White House. The Soviet Union collapsed, marking the end of the nationalist and communist era.

The question that arises here is, did Huntington come up with this theory as a purely subjective philosophical product, or was he a soldier in an army of theorists and thinkers who were entrusted with the task of crafting America’s foreign policy for the next 100 years?

Following the end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, America became the world’s dominant power. It became a single force in the face of a political and military void. However, history teaches us that whenever a great power is left without an adversary or challenger, it comes close to collapse within a few decades. Today, America must find and identify an enemy in order to prevent its downfall. America wants to survive and thrive for the next 100 years. Recovery and prosperity depend on the presence of an enemy that can rally the American people around the flag.

Therefore, a new concept must be introduced, promoted, adopted and applied; and the theory of the Clash of Civilization has been subsequently resurrected.

The trend of “Islamophobia” began in the ’90s as one of the byproducts of Huntington’s book, followed by the effort to antagonize Islam. The chaos in countries like Iraq, Libya, Yemen and Lebanon has since been cited as a practical expression of this famous theory.

But why did the application of the theory begin with the Islamic civilization and not with the Orthodox or Confucian civilizations, which are two other civilizations cited in Huntington’s book? The answer is simple: Putting the focus on the Islamic world allows the US to cut any and all cooperation between Islamic civilization and other civilizations. – Abdullah Nasser Al Otaibi

Religious attire and religious status

Al-Qabas, Kuwait, September 1

People’s environments are known to influence their behavior and appearance. And certain professions are recognized by the apparel worn by those who engage in them.

Take, for example, doctors, nurses, construction workers, firefighters, police officers, soldiers and cleaners; people engaging in these professions are easily recognized by their uniform.

This is also apparent with religious figures. Clothing and attire differ from one sect and religion to another – Buddhists, Muslims, Christians and others – but each has its own clothing with its own connotations and meanings.

Interestingly, the position of a “religious man” never existed in Islam. However, over the years, and perhaps in an effort of Arab people to distinguish themselves from other nations, the Arab world began witnessing its own adoption of religious attire. Muslim clergy across the Arab world started wearing robes. Beginning in the era of Harun al-Rashid, the fifth caliph of the Abbasid Caliphate, the differences between the clothes worn by the clergy and those worn by the rest of the people began to grow starker and starker.

The Muslim clergyman today is often known by his turban, cloak and loose robe, and every Muslim country has its own robe that distinguishes clergymen. The Azhari dress, for example, is influenced by the Ottoman rule in Egypt. The head covering is a red fez, like the tarbush hat, but differs from it by the white cloth that covers its sides. In Saudi Arabia, the majority of clergymen wear a ghutra headdress, although this differs from dress customs of Sunni clerics in the majority of the Gulf countries. Meanwhile, Shi’ite clerics have their own traditions, and the color of their head coverings or turbans differentiates between them. We also see that the Muslim clergy in Afghanistan, India, Malaysia and Pakistan have various robes and head coverings, which vary in the quality of the fabric, their colors and their shape. Clergy members in the Levant and the Maghreb have different robes altogether.

The position of the clergy has been magnified even further when governments began to recognize and appreciate the influence these men had on the public. Clergymen were viewed as tools that can be used to control the masses and mold their opinions, especially since the average believer always looks for a supreme religious and spiritual power to guide him in his life.

In response, the clergymen began to distinguish themselves and their clothes even further, to a point where the very garments they wear became religious artifacts permitted only for the nobles. – Ahmad al-Sarraf

Stable and promising investments in the kingdom

Al-Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, September 4

I know many people who lost a lot of money in the American stock market in recent months. Others incurred significant losses in currency speculation or in cryptocurrency trading.

In general, there is an unfathomable amount of Saudi money invested today into foreign capital markets, real estate projects and wealth funds.

Granted, there is nothing wrong with diversifying investments in the era of globalization. People should invest in the markets that they feel most confident about. However, this raises an interesting question: Where do we see the best return on investment? Is it on investments inside or outside Saudi Arabia’s borders?

If we review the performance of companies that invested large sums of money outside the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, we’ll quickly discover that they didn’t achieve even a quarter of the profits they achieved by investing inside the kingdom. Indeed, many of them incurred shocking losses at the exact same time in which they profited within Saudi Arabia.

Why is that? Because the kingdom’s economy is dynamic and strong, and experts expect it to grow by 7.5% by the end of 2022. This will make Saudi Arabia one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, and smart investors will reap the fruits of that growth while recession prevails in other markets.

The kingdom’s Vision 2030 is at the center of this growth. It has rendered the Saudi riyal one of the strongest currencies in the world, and its price stability provides investors with certainty and reassurance. Furthermore, Saudi law protects businesses and provides respect for rights and contracts. All of these make Saudi Arabia an attractive target for investment for both Saudis and foreigners looking for a stable, promising, fast-growing economy. – Abdullah Aljoaithen

Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb.