Voices from the Arab press: Development and university projects in Qatif

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

 ‘WALKING THROUGH the streets of Qatif brings back sweet memories.’  (photo credit: STRINGER/ REUTERS)
‘WALKING THROUGH the streets of Qatif brings back sweet memories.’
(photo credit: STRINGER/ REUTERS)

Development and university projects in Qatif

Al-Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, September 21

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Although I’ve lived away from Qatif since 2004 – and have moved around between Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates and Morocco during all these years – I always love returning to my hometown. Walking through the streets of Qatif brings back sweet memories. It’s like an embrace of a mother, or a loyal friend. 

Of course, nothing gives me greater joy than witnessing how the city developed and how the kingdom’s Vision 2030 is transforming life in the Eastern Province. One of the cornerstones of the Vision 2030 is sustainable development and the idea of turning various Saudi governorates into lively hubs of tourism, economic and cultural activity, heritage sites and industrial production. This is intended to improve the quality of life for citizens and residents alike. 

The Qatif Governorate is core to this plan. Nowhere more was this apparent than in the recent visit made by the deputy governor of the Eastern Province, Prince Ahmed bin Fahd bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, to the governorate earlier this month. The visit was meant to send a clear message to the public that the Saudi government is invested in Qatif and the region, and is looking for unique ways to improve relations between government and civil institutions, companies and academic institutions. 

An issue that has come up time and again in this context is the need to establish a university in Qatif. This institution of higher education will propel the region forward and contribute greatly to the local economy. 

Indeed, higher education is a right for all citizens, and it is important that sufficient academic opportunities will be made available for the region’s younger generation. Hence, the idea to establish a university in Qatif is a great idea, provided that this academic center provides a high level of education and training, and that it offers both degree as well as vocational programs that promote Vision 2030. 

At the same time, it’s important that the doors of this university will be open to qualified students from other cities and villages across the kingdom, and won’t be limited to students of the Eastern Province only, even if they receive some priority in enrollment. After all, mixing young people together, across different regions, allows them to gain genuine knowledge of each other and instills in them a sense of national cohesion. 

 THE ALEXANDER ZHAGRIN oilfield operated by Gazprom Neft, in Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Area–Yugra, Russia; picture released August 30.  (credit: Stoyan Vassev/press service of Gazprom Neft/handout via Reuters) THE ALEXANDER ZHAGRIN oilfield operated by Gazprom Neft, in Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Area–Yugra, Russia; picture released August 30. (credit: Stoyan Vassev/press service of Gazprom Neft/handout via Reuters)

In addition, the arrival of students from outside the Eastern Province will generate even more economic activity that will bolster local economic activity. 

There are many ideas worthy of experimentation and testing, and the visit of Prince Ahmed bin Fahd bin Salman came to push these conversations forward by giving them a greater level of attention. This is what we all aspire to see happen in Qatif, and what we should all collectively work toward. – Hassan Mustafa 

Will Russia lose two wars at the same time?

Al-Rai, Kuwait, September 20

Russia is currently facing two wars: the first is on the battlefield, in Ukraine; the second is the battle over its oil and gas exports. Will Russia lose these two wars simultaneously? 

We certainly don’t want to speculate or endorse one political party over another, but we, in Kuwait, know what the Ukrainians are undergoing. Under Saddam Hussein’s invasion, our country was also taken over by a foreign military led by a dictator thirsty for power. And, just as is the case with Ukraine, we also witnessed the world stand idly by as our country was invaded and destroyed.

As a result of recent events on the ground, the question arises: Has Russia really lost the energy war by pushing the West away from ever relying on Russian oil and gas? Although over 50% of European oil and gas comes from Russia – and despite the fact that some European countries, such as Germany and Norway, are even connected to Russia’s energy infrastructure through the Nord 1 and Nord 2 pipelines – the Europeans are moving away from Russian energy resources. 

Consequently, Europe may quickly find itself without any credible gas and oil resources, forcing it to find and secure energy sources elsewhere in the world. European states now have to rationalize their use of energy. The clearest example is the decision to turn off the lights of the famous Eiffel Tower in the heart of Paris at 10 p.m., and asking the British public to limit shower times to four minutes. Europe must also invest in port infrastructure that will support the docking of giant gas tankers. If it doesn’t have a workforce trained to do so, it will have to find that talent abroad. 

Ironically, over the past few years, Europe has relied on a single Russian energy source, and even agreed to build and manufacture Russian refineries and basic facilities in European territory. In Germany, there are three Russian refineries owned by the Russian company Rosneft, which supplies oil derivatives to Berlin and its surrounding areas, including fuel for cars, aircraft and other products. It must now find alternative energy sources in a short period of time. 

If Europe manages to get past this critical stage of identifying alternative energy providers, Russia may actually lose the energy war. This will become true come next December, when the European boycott on the entire Russian energy sector will kick in. 

Even if the Europeans struggle to identify alternative energy sources, it will be very difficult, if not impossible, for EU states to return to an age of dependence on Russian energy. Moscow will have to search for new, more distant markets that will counterbalance the losses it will incur from diminished European sales. 

I’ll let you readers judge whether Russia will win or lose the war; but the fact remains that a double loss, on both the battlefield and the energy front, would be extremely painful for the Kremlin. – Kamel Abdullah Al-Harami 

The queen ruled and governed

Al-Masry Al-Youm, Egypt, September 23

I was at my little brother’s house in London two weeks ago, when it was reported that the queen of England’s doctors were “concerned about her health.” I had seen a show on British television, and the channel cut off its broadcast to show the well-known news BBC anchor, Huw Edwards, wearing a black tie, announcing the news of Queen Elizabeth II being placed under medical supervision as a result of her health condition and based on the recommendations of doctors.

I immediately told my brother Raafat: “I think that the queen is already dead.” It seemed inconceivable to me that the BBC would have mistakenly entered a state of mourning. The anger that might descend upon the BBC as it misleads the public on such a sensitive issue would have been too much for the network to bear. Indeed, it took several more hours, and then the channel confirmed the queen’s death. 

Truthfully, I was overwhelmed with sadness and cried. The queen was associated in my mind with my mother, may God have mercy on her. Like the queen, my mother was born in the 1920s and World War II marked her formative years. There was a similarity between them in form and character, and both of them took responsibility for others from the beginning of their life journeys. 

Since the time I immigrated from Beirut to London, Queen Elizabeth II represented my second mother. Despite not having the honor of meeting her, I, like every other citizen in Britain, considered her a mother. And when she died, everyone grieved for her, as did I, for my mother died twice.

Throughout my short visit to the UK in the past few weeks, I’ve grown concerned with the manner in which the powers that were once the domain of the monarch are now conferred upon the prime minister, allowing the latter to declare war and sign treaties without resorting to parliamentary debate. Although Queen Elizabeth demonstrated restraint in the political advice she gave, she made sure throughout her reign to be intimately aware of the decisions of her government, and she didn’t hesitate to express her opinion when she felt a need to do so. 

She learned a lot from Winston Churchill, who taught her the way, and described her as “amazing for a young woman of her age.” Under Britain’s unwritten constitution, the monarch has the right to be informed of the government’s decisions and policies, and to advise and warn the head of government of action or inaction. Although the law is not written, Queen Elizabeth used to spend about three hours a day reviewing government documents and protocols, which she would discuss with the prime minister during their weekly meetings. 

The queen’s relationship with the first female British prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, was not friendly due to the latter’s confrontational stance and actions, especially with regard to the role of the Commonwealth of Nations. However, Queen Elizabeth still respected Thatcher and even attended her funeral. 

Queen Elizabeth once said, “sorrow is the price we pay for love.” And the English people affirmed these past few weeks that all the sadness we’re feeling is a testament to the love we had for an extraordinary queen. 

The queen is integral to everyday British life. Her portrait is printed on currency notes and postage stamps, and her royal insignia – ER, for Elizabeth Regina – is engraved on flags and red mailboxes across the kingdom. Despite her son Charles being officially declared king, the void left by Queen Elizabeth will be acutely felt for years to come. – Modi Hakim   

The issue of Syrian refugees

Al-Ittihad, UAE, September 22

It was natural for Turkey to open its doors to Syrian refugees who fled the war in search of safety. As Syria’s closest neighbor, which shares hundreds of years of cultural and religious history with its neighbor to the south, Turkey was an obvious safe haven for many Syrian migrants. 

The Turks welcomed the Syrians with open arms, but the refugees may have overstayed their welcome. Today, there is clear hope that they will return to their country. The number of Syrian refugees in Turkey exceeds 4 million. 

The situation in Turkey is different from the situation in other countries like Egypt, for example. The Syrians in Egypt are not refugees, but rather live with their Egyptian families. They migrated to Egypt over many years, and the history of mutual migration between the two countries is long. The same is true in Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. 

In Saudi Arabia and the Arab Gulf, the Syrians have lived there for decades, in addition to a long history that dates back to the migrations of Arab tribes. Thousands of Syrians have traveled to the Arab Gulf states since the 1950s, and this is what made the presence of Syrians coming to these countries after the outbreak of the Syrian war a normal and familiar matter, as they were received not as so-called “refugees,” but rather as residents. 

Therefore, not a single tent has been set up or a Syrian refugee camp has been established in Saudi Arabia, Egypt or any Gulf state. The Syrians do not forget the great support provided to them by the brotherly Gulf states, especially in the field of relief and humanitarian aid. 

The Syrians also don’t forget the hospitality they received from many Europeans, who received hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees, and provided them with housing, salaries, health care and education. Many European states granted Syrians citizenship. They found in them, in addition to the humanitarian dimension, a qualified economic workforce that could boost and power their aging economies. 

The Syrians have spread to all parts of the world. Today, there are more than 13 million Syrian refugees worldwide, in addition to those displaced within Syria itself, who left their cities, villages and residences and gathered in northern Syria. This group numbers around four million. 

The entire world is talking about the return of refugees, and their tragedy has become one of the greatest tragedies facing humanity today. Yet their return requires appropriate conditions and infrastructure, such as homes, schools, hospitals and government services. All of these were destroyed during the bloody years of war. 

Reconstruction requires a lot of money, great effort and stability. None of these will be available properly until after implementing the solution advocated for by the UN for a permanent ceasefire in Syria. 

The Syrians resented the calls of some Lebanese people for the refugees to leave Lebanon, because they ignored the fact that the migration of Syrians into Lebanon was mainly a product of Hezbollah’s entry into Syria, and the role it played in killing Syrians, demolishing their homes and expelling them from their towns. 

They cannot return to their country unless Hezbollah withdraws its forces from Syria. These Lebanese voices also can’t ignore the fact that the refugees didn’t impose a considerable burden on the Lebanese government, since the UN provides aid to the refugees and because most Syrian refugees are working. – Riad Naasan Agha 

Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb