Voices from the Arab press: Brexit at the heart of the British crisis

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

 LONDON: ON the road to where?  (photo credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
LONDON: ON the road to where?
(photo credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Brexit at the heart of the British crisis

Al Rai, Kuwait, October 28

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

Liz Truss is gone and Rishi Sunak, the newly elected British prime minister, will soon find himself facing the legacy of Boris Johnson as well. It is a legacy of an untenable kind, considering Britain’s inability to find an alternative to the European Union.

The deficit caused by those who pushed to leave the EU in the so-called Brexit is at the heart of the British crisis, revealing that the UK’s future is on the table and whether it will remain a united and developed country. Truss resigned after just 44 days as prime minister. The UK, where just over half of the electorate sided with Brexit, is paying dearly for the results of the 2016 referendum. The Johnson government oversaw the implementation of the referendum’s results during the first months of 2020. The British became strangers in Europe, and the Europeans became strangers in Britain. But while Britain’s exit from the EU took place almost two years ago, no one in the kingdom is ready to face the consequences of that decision.

Brexit, and the referendum that came along with it, were fueled by populist politicians, most of them from the extreme Right, who did not have any strategic vision related to reality. Truss’s quick resignation and resort to Sunak are nothing but an expression of the disaster left behind by Brexit. The UK is suffering from a complete absence of statesmen capable of leading in a country that was once great. At one point, before Sunak was appointed, there was even a thought within the Conservative Party of returning to Johnson.

 ELON MUSK’S Twitter page, seen in April.  (credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images) ELON MUSK’S Twitter page, seen in April. (credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

There is still no serious discussion about Brexit. There is no talk of Brexit because the British people want to avoid admitting that the phenomenon of British prosperity is due, in large part, to the fact that the relationship with Europe has transformed London into the largest global financial center. This development took place after 1979, thanks to the Iron Lady named Margaret Thatcher, and in light of the good management of the British relationship with the EU in order to benefit from it to the fullest extent.

International financial companies and banks have migrated to other European cities in countries such as Germany, France and even Switzerland, which is not a member of the EU.

Britain’s problem is no longer finding a new prime minister. Rather, it is what to do with Brexit. No one wants to ask such a question at a time when most British institutions, especially restaurants, hotels, and cafés, are looking for qualified employees. These people, who came from EU countries, suddenly needed work permits. In certain agricultural seasons, Britain needs 70,000 workers, but can now fill only about 40,000 of them. In addition, there are no longer enough truck drivers to deliver goods around the country.

There is no doubt that the Ukraine war and the COVID-19 pandemic made the situation worse. But Brexit remains at the base of the complex British crisis. The UK has left the EU, but it has not found an alternative that would embrace it. Trade relations with the United States and other countries remained unchanged. Because of Brexit, Britain transitioned from being a semi-superpower to becoming a country that is fighting to preserve its unity and redefine its ailing national identity. – Khairallah Khairallah 

Is the blue bird actually free?

Al Arabiya, Saudi Arabia, October 27

As soon as the Twitter deal – which nearly collapsed more than once – was completed by Elon Musk last week, Musk posted a picture of an open cage and a freed bird and announced that “the bird is freed.” Musk, the billionaire businessman behind Tesla, Starlink, and SpaceX, claimed that the world of social media, of which Twitter is one of the largest platforms, has become free of restrictions and limited speech.

In 2021, Musk was named the king of Twitter. Some of his tweets affected the financial markets, while others sparked controversies. After Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey stepped down from the company, the role was taken over by Parag Agrawal, who served as the company’s chief technology officer.

With Musk stepping in and firing Agrawal, alongside other senior company leaders, the inevitable question now arises: Who will make sure that Twitter doesn’t become a leading source of misinformation that matches its newly minted owner’s whims?

Some wonder whether there is actually a need for a restructuring of social media platforms in a way that is more suitable for the era we live in. Will the blue bird benefit users without paving the way for new controversies?

The prevailing public opinion today revolves around the demands for technical modifications to Twitter, such as the tweet edit button, and more and more attention to fake accounts and electronic “armies,” which will require the establishment of a “Twitter police.”

The richest man in the world acquired a social media platform and transformed it from a public company beholden to its shareholders to a private company whose owners spark controversy at all levels. Musk carries with him the banner of saving humanity at a time when many people portray his ultimate goal as political ambition.

One of the first repercussions of the acquisition is the announcement by former US president Donald Trump of the upcoming revival of his Twitter account, which was permanently banned following the January 6 events on Capitol Hill.

There is no doubt that with Musk’s new role, he will become critically important to politicians in the United States and around the world. Musk now has the power and strength that these individuals need, and they will begin courting him to win over his affection. – Nadine Khammash 

Our partner, the brutal enemy

Nida Al Watan, Lebanon, October 29

No treachery or condemnation, but a look of disgust and suspicion. In effect, the recently signed maritime demarcation deal with Israel is an agreement flavored with concessions, which the Lebanese government falsely turned into a national achievement. Out of respect for the people of Lebanon, the government should, at the very least, avoid calling it a victory.

They wanted to demarcate the border, and they achieved that goal. But the process was far from transparent. The Lebanese government only consulted itself and failed to submit to parliament – or the Lebanese public – any insight into the content of the deal.

What is done is done. The agreement may be in Lebanon’s interest if it finally allows Lebanon to extract gas from the ocean in a manner that brings money into the Lebanese economy.

But there is a big “but.” Like most parts of the Lebanese economy, Lebanon’s energy sector has also been plagued by widespread corruption. No one knows which middlemen will gain the most from the oil extraction operations. Doubts are legitimate. The Lebanese are not to be blamed for the lack of confidence in the demarcation system.

This demarcation agreement is a far more important matter than people admit. It isn’t a mere understanding between two warring parties. Rather, it is a formal treaty signed at the highest levels of leadership and backed by the United Nations. It has binding legal status. And it will be closely monitored by the United States.

The denial of the “maritime normalization” with Israel has deep roots in the Arab world. Lebanon’s celebration of the deal as a victory over Israel reminded me of the June 1967 war, when the Sawt al-Arab radio station announced that all Israeli fighter jets had been shot down by the Egyptian Air Force during the first few hours of the war. This so-called victory quickly turned into what is described until this very day as “The Setback.”

From the “Three Noes” of the Khartoum Resolution to present-day “resistance,” empty words have replaced the need for truth. Anti-imperialist rhetoric has flourished, begging to suppress freedoms and install tyrannical regimes. Iraq “ready to destroy half of Israel” using its chemical weapons ended with Iraq invading its neighbor Kuwait. The “beating heart of Arabism,” which acted under the pretext of “liberating Palestine,” sent half of its citizens to the grave.

As for Iran, which inherited this discourse and boasts of its ability to exterminate the “Zionist entity” in “seven minutes,” it, too, is inflicting pain on the Arab world.

The victory claimed by the “resistance” in Lebanon is not different from previous claims. The truth is that the demarcation agreement recognizes in writing the State of Israel and legitimizes its existence. Our politicians might claim that the agreement was signed with “occupied Palestine,” but the truth is that this “brutal enemy” will now formally share Lebanon’s profit from the oil extracted out of the Qana field, after securing its ownership over Karish. – Bechara Charbel 

The blessing of Saudi growth

Al Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, October 30

I closely followed the activities of the Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh, and during the conference’s three days I enjoyed listening to the opinions of a select group of heads of major international banks and the most important CEOs around the world. The conference boasted over 180 sessions and 30 workshops in which important social, political, and economic matters were discussed.

There is no doubt that this kind of high-end brainstorming will be pivotal in reshaping the global economy in the decade to come.

One thing that caught my attention was the remarks made by Minister of Finance Mohammed Al-Jadaan regarding the promising economic future of Gulf countries over the next six years. Indeed, the Arab region should be optimistic about the Gulf’s propensity for growth and success. Saudi Arabia, for example, which is the largest Arab economy, is growing at a two-decade record pace, with 7.6% in 2022 alone. This is thanks to reforms, strong financial conditions, the strengthening of the investment environment, and the securing of more job opportunities. This positive view of Saudi growth undoubtedly applies to the rest of the Gulf countries that benefited from the rise in oil prices.

A conference of such important caliber in Riyadh highlights the kingdom’s growing global influence, especially after the relocation of many regional offices of international companies to Riyadh. The goal now is to reorganize the economic visions of the Gulf countries to achieve mutual benefit and maximize their shared strategy of diversifying sources of income away from oil.

For this reason, the kingdom recently launched an integrated plan to revitalize over 12 sectors of the economy with more than 800 investment opportunities at a total value of 1 trillion riyals (roughly $266 billion). At the same time, the kingdom launched a flexible initiative for global supply chains, which will make it a vital link and a preferred place for international companies, and there is no doubt that such qualitative ideas will serve the entire Arab region and will revive the intraregional trade in the coming decades.

The latest figures indicate that trade between Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states during the first half of the year jumped 11%, with an increase of 18.19 billion riyals ($4.84b.), bringing the value of exchanges in just six months to 71.59 billion riyals ($19.06b.).

Certainly, this economic approach, which prioritizes regional stability, will benefit the rest of the Arab countries and the Middle East by reviving direct and indirect investments. Most importantly, these encouraging figures restore hope in the kingdom’s ability to achieve its goals for the Vision 2030 plan.

We are already witnessing Riyadh’s insistence on securing the Gulf’s sovereignty and reducing its reliance on others, as was evidenced in the recent OPEC+ decisions, which were purely economic and did not pay attention to America’s threats. – Khaled Ramadan

Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb.