Voices from the Arab press: Lionel Messi isn’t just a good player, he’s also a good human

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

 ARGENTINA’S LIONEL MESSi celebrates winning the Golden Ball award during the World Cup trophy ceremony earlier this month.  (photo credit: PETER CZIBORRA/REUTERS)
ARGENTINA’S LIONEL MESSi celebrates winning the Golden Ball award during the World Cup trophy ceremony earlier this month.

Lionel Messi isn’t just a good player, he’s also a good human

El-Watan, Egypt, December 23 

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Lionel Messi isn’t just an incredible soccer player, he’s also an incredible person. He is a generous benefactor and philanthropist. His charitable track record speaks for itself: He made a huge donation of $1 million (NIS 3.2 m.) to a hospital clinic in Catalonia and a health center in Argentina during the COVID-19 pandemic. Messi also participated in many campaigns during the pandemic to highlight the importance of quarantining and washing hands to avoid the spread of the virus.

His foundation has made donations to a wide range of charitable organizations and causes. In 2019, the Leo Messi Foundation donated $218,000 (NIS 765,000) to UNICEF projects in Kenya. Earlier that year, Messi was selected as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, along with other notable celebrities like David Beckham and Shakira. In his role as a UNICEF ambassador, Messi volunteered in areas affected by natural disasters, poverty and disease.

He has gone out of his way to advocate for better health care and education. For example, when the Sant Joan de Deu Barcelona Hospital hoped to open a new department specializing in the treatment of children with cancer, Messi joined the campaign in an effort to raise awareness of the cause.

 IRAQI FOREIGN MINISTER Fuad Hussein, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi and French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna take part in a news conference, during the second Baghdad Conference for Cooperation and Partnership, at the Dead Sea, in Jordan, last week. (credit: Alaa Al Sukhni/Reuters) IRAQI FOREIGN MINISTER Fuad Hussein, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi and French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna take part in a news conference, during the second Baghdad Conference for Cooperation and Partnership, at the Dead Sea, in Jordan, last week. (credit: Alaa Al Sukhni/Reuters)

After raising around €‎27 m. (NIS 101 m.), Messi personally funded the last €‎3 m. (NIS 11.2 m.) out of his own pocket to hit the campaign goal. He then attended the groundbreaking ceremony that marked the beginning of the construction project. Messi said at the time: “It is a very happy moment for me. It is extraordinary to be part of this project and to see it become a reality... I want to thank everyone who worked to make this possible.”

Messi also visited Haiti after the devastating earthquake it suffered in 2010. He shifted his busy schedule in order to make the visit just six months after the island nation suffered one of its deadliest natural disasters. Messi visited a camp known as Carrefour Air, which was home to some 50,000 Haitians who were made homeless by the earthquake. He spent time with families and children in the camp as well as with UNICEF staff, learning what they were doing to help the country. Messi also took the time to meet the Argentine forces stationed in the country as part of the United Nations Stabilization Mission.

Messi was born in the small town of Rosario in Argentina and has often used his wealth to help the city. Back in 2013, Messi is believed to have donated around €‎650,000 (NIS 2.4 m.) to renovate a local hospital. But this wasn’t the only time he made donations in his hometown. In 2020, after he discovered that hospitals in the region were suffering from an acute shortage of ventilators, he donated 50 devices to hospitals in the region in an attempt to help them deal with COVID patients.

Messi’s own experiences and struggles with stunted growth have been reported on a lot. His parents sometimes struggled to pay for his treatment before he moved to Barcelona. In 2012, Messi encountered a 12-year-old boy with the same developmental deficiency from which he had suffered as a kid. The boy also wanted to become a soccer player but, like Messi, he came from a family that was struggling to pay his medical bills. It comes as no surprise that the boy’s story resonated with the Argentine star and he offered to pay the child’s medical bills until he turned 18.

In 2016, news spread of a 5-year-old Afghan boy named Mortada Ahmadi, after his brother posted a photo on Facebook depicting Mortada wearing a blue and white striped shirt-shaped plastic bag with Messi’s name and number written on the back. The viral photo caught Messi’s attention and he sent the kid a signed Argentine jersey with his name and number on the back.

But when Barcelona visited Doha to play a friendly match against Al-Ahly, the club took it a step further and brought the boy out to meet his idol. Mortada was invited to walk on the field with the team and even participated in team photos. The young boy also was photographed embracing the champion in the tunnel before the start of the match.

In 2017, the Leo Messi Foundation made a large donation to UNICEF to install 20 new classrooms in Tartous and Damascus. This allowed 1,600 war-affected Syrian children to return to school. UNICEF issued a statement thanking Messi’s charity: “More than 60% of the children attending these schools have been displaced from their homes because of the fighting.”

When the Paris Saint-Germain star married his wife, the couple asked their friends and family not to buy them gifts. Instead, they asked that guests donate the money to a charity of their choice, including the Leo Messi Foundation, to enable him to continue to improve the lives of others.–  Khaled Montaser

Baghdad Conference at the Dead Sea and the Iranian Game

Al-Rai, Kuwait, December 24 

 Last week marked the conclusion of the second Baghdad Conference for Cooperation and Partnership, which took place on the Jordanian side of the Dead Sea. The conference brought together leaders of the Arab world, including from Jordan, Egypt and Gulf states – together with France, in order to discuss Iran’s actions in the region. The conference was marked by rhetoric completely different from the usual one focused on regional stability and cooperation.

This time, all eyes were on Iran. Iran increased its aggression toward everything that is Arab in the region, especially after the administration of United States President George Bush handed Iraq over to them on a silver platter, in the spring of 2003. The words of Jordan’s King Abdullah II, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, French President Emmanuel Macron and Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan, revealed a clear desire to support Iraq and prevent its fall under Iranian hegemony.

Unfortunately, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian once again managed to raise Arab, Gulf and European concerns when he touched upon the issue of the assassination of Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Quds Force in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of the Popular Mobilization Forces in Iraq. They were killed at the hands of the Americans in early 2020, shortly after they left Baghdad Airport.

This time, the conference was held in the presence of Iraq’s new prime minister, Mohammed Shia’ al-Sudani, who symbolizes the coup that took place in Iraq and enabled Iran to regain the initiative in Baghdad. The Islamic Republic waited a full year before overturning the results of the legislative elections and imposing al-Sudani as prime minister. It destroyed any chances that Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, a reasonable and somewhat balanced man, would remain in the position of prime minister with the support of Muqtada Al-Sadr.

Teheran wanted a prime minister who would be in complete alignment with its policies and who would be a softened, less provocative version of Nouri al-Maliki. At the conference, al-Sudani contented himself with raising the issue of water security for Iraq, claiming that it is an existential threat to the country while ignoring basic issues, such as completing the demarcation of the maritime borders between Iraq and Kuwait. This issue was raised by His Highness Sheikh Ahmed Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, the Kuwaiti prime minister, who spoke openly at the conference about the need to resolve this issue instead of the Iraqi side resorting to procrastination.

It became clear from the statements made by Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian that his country is ready to negotiate Iraq’s future with the Western world. For the Islamic Republic, Iraq is an Iranian card, like other cards, including Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. The Iranian foreign minister was clear in his request to revive the agreement on the Iranian nuclear file, which was signed in the summer of 2015. Abdollahian, who undoubtedly has a strong personality and the ability to speak Arabic alongside Persian, does not know that global events and the Iranian internal situation have made the US administration uninterested in returning to this agreement.

It is no longer a secret that Washington is concerned about Iranian involvement in the Ukrainian war on the side of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Iranian role in Iraq and the complacency of the authorities in the country regarding the passage of Iranian weapons to Syria and from there to Lebanon is also no longer a secret. In addition to all of this, King Abdullah II is aware of the details of drug smuggling to Jordan from Syria. Some of these drugs remain in Jordan, while some move to other Arab Gulf states.

Not a week goes by without a clash between Jordanian forces and smuggling gangs affiliated with Iran in the border areas between Jordan and Syria. Jordan, which is currently going through a difficult economic crisis, is suffering from more Iranian efforts aimed at destabilizing the Hashemite Kingdom in light of cooperation between the Revolutionary Guards, the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood and the Palestinians represented by Hamas.

In the absence of real change in Iran, a change that must be imposed by the Iranian people, the situation in Iraq will remain stagnant. Other conferences will be held in order to make Iraq restore its normal status as one of the most important countries in the region. Sadly, these conferences won’t achieve anything. The Iranian game has been exposed, even to the Biden administration.

It appears that there is no Arab negligence toward Iraq, but at the same time, there is no bet on a major change in Baghdad as long as the IRGC is keeping a tight noose around Iraq’s neck.– Kheir Allah Kheir Allah

Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb

Iran and Bishop Tutu

Al-Arab, London, December 23 

No individual has succeeded in breaking the laws of nature and no country has succeeded in reversing them or reversing history and the freedoms of its people. History has always revolved around progress and openness to each other.

South African Bishop Desmond Tutu was addressing the white minority that was ruling his country when he said that it must acknowledge that the day of liberation will inevitably come when the black majority will rule, so why not stop the bloodshed, save thousands of lives and stop the destruction, instead of a conflict whose outcome is known? In the same way, the Iranian leadership must realize that it is impossible to rule a nation against its will.

There is no method or religious text that explains how to guarantee paradise so why not let people live freely like other peoples, within the limits of morality, law and order? Shutting people’s mouths isn’t a viable long-term sustainable strategy. Expressing opinions freely is an inherent human right. Living freely was and always will remain one of the attributes of a normal person. The threats made by political leaders and the oppression of secret service agencies won’t succeed in changing it.

Note that the current regime arose after a revolution that was the most beautiful, pure and least bloody in modern history. The ruins of the corrupt, worn out, unjust regime and those who carried it out deserve to see the principles for which they staged a revolt come to life.

An anonymous writer, who claims not to be Iranian, says that when you meet an Iranian, you meet a businessman, engineer, doctor, lawyer, CEO, teacher, student, scientist, astrologer, musician, artist, writer, producer or director. He may be moderate in his ideas, monarchist, conservative, progressive, anarchist, Marxist or capitalist. He may be an atheist, Zoroastrian, Jew, Baha’i, Buddhist, Assyrian, Shiite or Sunni Muslim, Kurdish, Armenian, Turkish, Baloch, or a member of one of the dozens of other tribes and ethnicities that call Iran their home.

When you meet an Iranian, you meet a lover, a fighter and a proud descendant of the amazing history of the Persian Empire. When you meet an Iranian, you meet a daughter of Cyrus the Great, or Darius, or Ibn Al-Rumi, or Omar Khayyam, or Mossadegh, or one of the heroes of Persia. Yet almost all of them have one thing in common: the metaphorical hole in their hearts that has existed and remained since someone took over their homeland 40 or so years ago.

Today, they need their democratic and free state to return to them and for them to rule themselves. This is a dream that has become possible with the fall of a number of martyrs in the battle for freedom. The people of Iran need the world’s sympathy, even if it is through articles, letters, newspapers or on social media platforms. This is the least that can be done for the brave women and men who are fighting in Iran for a homeland and a better life.– Ahmed Al-Sarraf

What can help Syria?

Al-Ittihad, UAE, December 22 

 It is heartbreaking for all Syrians and Arabs that the economic situation in Syria has reached a state in which Syrians lack the minimum necessities of life, the most important of which is electricity, which in this era has become the juice of daily life.

In addition, most Syrians are struggling to cope with the rise in the prices of basic materials, especially food, and with the successive decline in the purchasing value of the Syrian pound. The Syrian refugees who have been scattered for 11 years in refugee camps on the lands of neighboring countries are no better off than those residing at home. It is a long-time tragedy and the international interest in its treatment has become lukewarm and has even declined with the acceleration of the deterioration, the international changes and the different priority schedules of many of the concerned countries.

Recently, the Russian-Ukrainian war has become the focus of international attention, with its economic and security repercussions. Russia is no longer able to provide the usual assistance it once provided to the Syrian government. Likewise, Iranian support for the Syrian government has declined with the continuation of sanctions and the failure to reach a renewal of the nuclear agreement.

Some politicians were calling on Russia to launch a mandate in Syria, in order to carry out the duties set forth by the United Nations. But Russia is no longer able to bear the accumulated burdens and there is nothing left in Syria that tempts the Russians to continue their involvement there.

Even the call for the return of the millions of refugees has become an additional burden on the Syrian government. Likewise, the call to start reconstruction has become less important than stopping the collapse. I do not think that anyone in the Syrian opposition wants to see the collapse of the Syrian state. We are all aware that more economic collapse will lead to social disasters and greater tragedies than what we’ve seen to date.

And while the specter of partition looms on the horizon, especially since Syria became an area of influence for some countries, all Syrians refuse to see their country divided. When the French Mandate tried to divide it, its plan failed, and the Syrians recovered the unity of their country.

These are temporary reactions and feelings, and the Syrians, when they meet, quickly transcend the narrow and artificial affiliations that have developed in unnatural circumstances. Just as the war separated them, it brings them together today. – Riyad Naasan Agha

Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb