Voices from the Arab press: 2023: A continuation of last year

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

 EXITING A currency exchange shop in Cairo. (photo credit: Khaled Desouki/AFP via Getty Images)
EXITING A currency exchange shop in Cairo.
(photo credit: Khaled Desouki/AFP via Getty Images)

2023: A continuation of last year

Al-Ittihad, UAE, January 1

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As 2022 draws to a close, we perform familiar rituals to celebrate the past year, ushering in the New Year with the promise of new beginnings. We make decisions like quitting smoking, losing weight, and carving out more time to relax. It’s the same decisions we’ve made before and failed to stick to, hoping that this time will be different. But it takes more than a new page in the calendar to change behavior. And this is true of both people and the world in which we live. 

After reading dozens of fanciful predictions from political commentators about the “big” changes that 2023 has in store for us, it is necessary to set the record straight. In many ways, 2023 will be nothing more than a continuation of 2022. In domestic politics and international affairs, the constants will remain the same. Barring some unexpected drama, things will be just as they were. 

Let’s look at some examples. 

Russia’s war in Ukraine: Although Russia is negatively affected by the sanctions and heavy losses it endured in Ukraine, it shows no signs of being ready to end its offensive. It is true that the US provision of weapons enabled the Ukrainians to fend off the attacks and fight back, but it also exacerbated the conflict. Ukrainians and young Russian conscripts are paying a heavy price. Ukrainians have been subjected to horrific attacks, and Russian citizens have been forced into military conscription. And this conflict will continue in 2023 with neither side willing or able to give in or back down from their maximalist demands. 

 UKRAINIAN SERVICE members take part in a military exercise this week near the border with Belarus, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine. (credit: Viacheslav Ratynskyi/Reuters) UKRAINIAN SERVICE members take part in a military exercise this week near the border with Belarus, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine. (credit: Viacheslav Ratynskyi/Reuters)

Europe is already suffering from an economic downturn and successive waves of refugees that have exacerbated internal EU divisions. All of this will make the old continent continue to drift to the right. Winter fuel shortages caused by war will continue to test the strength of Europe’s democratic institutions. 

In Iran: Iranians are discontent with the clergy, sending them to the streets in protest of the regime. Despite the economic sanctions and the country’s increasing isolation from the West, Iran succeeded in finding allies and markets for oil and weapons, which reduced the chances of concluding a new nuclear deal or reducing Iran’s meddling regional role. 

Israel and the Palestinians: The new Israeli government announced its intention to accelerate the settlement movement in the occupied territories and to step up the oppression of the besieged Palestinian population. The official response of the United States, which was dictated by domestic politics rather than principle, was a lukewarm wait-and-see response. In the face of Israeli policies, American public opinion will continue to shift, but not enough to prompt Congress or the White House to act decisively to stop Israeli behavior.

Dysfunction in American political life: At home, political dysfunction continues. The Republicans will do everything in their power to disrupt the remaining two years of President Joe Biden’s term. The Republican Party will continue repeating the same old tropes and accusations, revealing the dominance of Donald Trump, and Trump’s political orientation, over the base of the Republican Party. 

And the same commentators who imagined that a “red wave” would rise in 2022 and then falsely declared that the Democrats had won unexpected victories, are now convinced that Trump is finished. They’re quick to eulogize Trump and search for his successor. The electorate remains deeply and almost evenly divided. 

Trump and his ideas are still very much alive, running through a deep vein of discontent among a large segment of the electorate. Trump has targeted the media, the “elites,” the “deep state,” the judiciary, the FBI, and the Democrats, which are the very institutions that attack him. 

In the eyes of Trump’s followers, these institutions legitimize their discontent and empower Trump. The Republican Party will not be able to replace him and remain a viable party unless Trump steps down voluntarily and accepts a successor, which is unlikely. If one wants to know where we are heading, he must go back to where we started and where we are today and continue following the same trend line into the future.

The year 2023 will be a continuation of the year 2022, not a “new year,” unless divine providence intervenes. –  James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute in Washington

The crime of repelling investors

Al-Masry Al-Youm, Egypt, January 2

There are several things that have become certain. The first is that we have no way out, considering the difficult economic situation we are facing, except with a strong and real presence of foreign direct investment. Investment from private institutions and funds, not state investments. The second matter is that foreign direct investment will not flow into our economy unless our socioeconomic conditions are positive and favorable. The third sure thing is that the state, through its policies and initiatives, has begun to adopt this approach. 

The only thing that stands in the face of these realities falling into practice is the fact that lower-level bureaucrats follow methods that contradict all the policies and statements adopted by the state through its senior officials. Their effort to dissuade investors include two methods: attrition and intimidation. Some of the senior staff, as well as their junior cronies, are waging a war of attrition against the investors, with the goal of extracting the largest amount of the investor’s money by various means. 

The second approach, intimidation, consists of presenting investors with archaic regulations that complicate the investment process and scare investors away. The sad reality is that a junior employee in the Finance Ministry can come up with a “legal” measure to which the investor is bound, even if it contradicts all basic economic and financial logic. But the intimidation doesn’t stop there. There are several government departments that, through their arbitrary policies and intransigence, launch attacks on foreign investors by freezing their accounts under the context of disputed debts. This is a matter that causes great harm to the company, its employees, and customers, and, ultimately, to the Egyptian economy. 

Added to all this are the already convoluted and difficult conditions of conducting business in our country. This is nothing short of a crime against the Egyptian state and the economy. If we are serious about our goal of attracting foreign investments, then this seriousness should be reflected in our 

policies, how we implement them, and how we enforce them. I am afraid that the existing situation will cause the departure of big international companies from Egypt and a negative impact on our reputation and economy.– Abdel Latif El Menawy

The year of difficult decisions

Asharq Al-Awsat, London, January 3

We are now sailing into a new year. The year has barely started, and we already feel the need to tighten our belts. There is widespread turbulence around us. Difficult and painful decisions will need to be made. There are several key issues sitting on President Biden’s table. The primary one is how can the US continue pumping weapons and millions of dollars into Ukraine, which continues to fight an endless war against Russia. Can Biden really prevent Vladimir Putin from winning the war without humiliating him and pushing him to use weapons of last resort? Can he pressure President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to accept a truce, even at the cost of relinquishing Ukrainian territory? These tough questions must be answered by the Biden Administration in the next few months. 

And then, of course, there are internal politics in the aftermath of the midterm elections and the informal launch of the next presidential race. Biden knows that Putin is determined to achieve his goals regardless of the costs. Moscow is seeking revenge against the very same Western model that resulted in the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dismantling of the Soviet Union. This is the model that led to the various color revolutions that pushed Western powers closer and closer to Russia’s borders.

Therefore, Putin only has one choice: victory. Europe, whose fragility and dependence on Russian gas has been exposed by the Ukrainian war, finds itself facing painful questions and difficult decisions as well. What remains of European progress if the power goes out in France, Germany, and elsewhere in the continent? What remains of Europe’s stability if the elderly or children die of cold? 

At Macron’s table, as at Schultz’s table and others, there are difficult questions of unprecedented caliber. Can Europe pay the price for Zelenskyy’s insistence on “fighting until victory”? Can Europe bend down and agree to change Ukraine’s borders by force to appease the Russian czar? Can Europe survive a wave of inflation, strikes, rising prices, and low security? 

Xi Jinping’s table is not immune to tough decisions either. Putin’s defeat would postpone Beijing’s dream of restoring its control over Taiwan. Putin’s victory could plunge the world and its economy into an irreversible crisis. The Chinese leader succeeded in walking the tightrope in the year that passed; but what about the new year? He certainly wants to weaken America’s position of global leadership. He also dreams of ending the hegemony of the US dollar. 

However, his country’s interests with America and Europe are enormous, and cannot be compensated for by the fall of wounded Russia into the Chinese embrace. His calculations are difficult. He should pay attention to the Indian giant next door. And to Japan, which discovered just how fragile its economy really is. 

In the gloomy Middle East, many countries, including the Arab countries, need to take difficult and painful decisions in light of the Ukrainian earthquake. The return of Binyamin Netanyahu to the helm of Israel, and the composition of his new government, are also deeply concerning. 

In Iran, protests continue to take place daily, despite the government’s repeated attempts to repress and crush them. There are now voices even within the government itself that threaten the stability of the mullah regime. The mullahs know that castles often fall from within, and not just from outside winds of change. The manufacturing of killer drones for Russia doesn’t obviate the need of the Iranian regime to meet the needs of its people, who are demanding more rights and more freedom. 

Interestingly, however, a visitor to Riyadh in the last week of the year did not feel called upon to make difficult decisions. Perhaps because the kingdom already made these types of decisions years ago, when it adopted Vision 2030; when it chose the path of openness, reform, and innovation. The results of this reform are evident in Saudi Arabia’s economy, culture, and diplomacy; in the strengthening of Saudi Arabia’s position at the G20 Summit; and in the diversification of Saudi Arabia’s strategic partnerships with major economies. These decisions allowed Saudi Arabia to become a locomotive of progress in the region, providing a model for the Arab world’s ability to engage with the winds of change that are sweeping our world. – Ghassan Charbel 

A political vacuum in Kuwait

Al Qabas, Kuwait, January 3

We bid farewell to 2022 after all our institutions, agencies, and ministries have been emptied of their leaders. In fact, the wave of political resignations has been so widespread over the past few weeks, that they reached a record number of 15 resignations in one single day. The reasons behind this development are clear. Throughout the month of December, rumors have spread about the fact that starting in 2023, the Kuwaiti government will no longer pay pensions to government employees who enter retirement. 

Despite never formally being corroborated or denied by the government, the rumors worked. Dozens of public servants submitted their resignation in an effort to protect their healthy retirement salaries – which provide up to 80% of an employee’s regular pay – before the new policy kicks in. Today, Kuwait is almost empty of leaders, except in rare and exceptional cases. 2023 has ushered in an era of political vacuum, with ministries and government offices left devoid of their leaders. 

Of course, many of the retirees aren’t leaving a huge void behind them. Indeed, there are government offices and institutions that are better off today, without any leadership, than they would have otherwise been with an inept leader. But there are also those offices where the departure of a figurehead will undoubtedly leave a void and a mark. Therefore, it is important that we fill up these positions as soon as possible. 

First, to make sure that the work and progress of these institutions aren’t hindered. Second, to encourage innovation and empower more qualified people, especially women, to take on key positions in government and public service. We have found ourselves in a rare administrative situation. But we usher in the new year with a warm welcome for a new generation of leaders. Let us hope that this new year will be good for our institutions and for Kuwait. – Asrar Joohood Hayat

Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb