Voices from the Arab press: What about the Syrian victims?

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

 RESCUE WORKERS search for earthquake survivors among the rubble in Latakia Province, Syria, Feb. 7. (photo credit: AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES)
RESCUE WORKERS search for earthquake survivors among the rubble in Latakia Province, Syria, Feb. 7.
(photo credit: AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES)

What about the Syrian victims?

An-Nahar, Lebanon, February 9

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The world has been sending its heartfelt condolences to the innocent victims of the recent earthquakes in Turkey and Syria. The destruction caused by the earthquakes, coupled with the freezing temperatures, hail and rain, necessitates the urgent and generous support of Kuwait, the Gulf and Arab countries, and the international community.

The magnitude of the disaster is unprecedented. This is the worst earthquake to hit Turkey since 1939. As the Turkish leadership noted in their address yesterday, the survivors of the earthquake require aid in the form of tents, blankets, medicine and food.

As we rally to support the Kuwaiti and Gulf relief efforts for Turkey, we must also ensure that aid is delivered to those affected by the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Syria. Working in coordination with the Syrian leadership and international organizations, we must guarantee that the aid reaches those in need in areas such as Hama and Aleppo.

It is time for any internal or external political disputes to be set aside, and for us to fulfill our responsibility to our brothers and sisters in Syria facing this catastrophe. Geological studies suggest that this could be the start of a series of devastating earthquakes that may continue until the end of the year.

We must not forget those in need. At this time, when the world is moved by the plight of the victims of the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria, it is important to remember the lack of humanity shown by some extremists when similar disasters have befallen non-Muslim nations.

 SAILORS RECOVER a suspected Chinese high-altitude surveillance balloon, downed by the US over its territorial waters, off the coast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Feb. 5. (credit: US Fleet Forces/US Navy/handout via Reuters) SAILORS RECOVER a suspected Chinese high-altitude surveillance balloon, downed by the US over its territorial waters, off the coast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Feb. 5. (credit: US Fleet Forces/US Navy/handout via Reuters)

Instead of empathizing with those in need, they have gloated, expressed hatred and attributed these natural disasters to the words and actions of political leaders in those countries, without explaining why the whole population is being punished for the wrongdoings of a few. How can they justify the exposure of our Islamic countries to the same disasters with even more severity and casualties? It is essential that we show a little humanity and modesty. – Sami Abd Al-Latif Al-Nisf

Erdogan and the Syrian regime post-earthquake

Al Rai, Kuwait, February 9

The devastating earthquake that struck southern Turkey and northern Syria has had a dramatic impact on the political realities of the two regions. In particular, Turkey’s plan to form a buffer zone within Syrian territory, some 30km to 35km deep, has been thrown into question.

The Turkish regions that have been affected by the earthquake, have seen much of their infrastructure destroyed. Rebuilding these areas will require tens of billions of dollars, compounding the existing economic crisis already gripping Turkey.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s grand ambitions to take a dominant role in the region, all the way to Libya, have been starkly revealed as overreaching. He must now reevaluate his plans for 2023 and Turkey’s regional role, as well as the 1923 international treaties that imposed restrictions on Turkey following the fall of the Ottoman Empire, notably with regard to its control of the Bosporus strait.

The recent earthquake in Turkey has highlighted the country’s need for support from the US and Europe – if it wishes to be respected as an influential player on the world stage. Erdogan’s attempt to curry favor with Vladimir Putin by purchasing a Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missile system, despite Turkey’s status as a core member of NATO, is a misguided maneuver that will not bring the country closer to its goals.

Additionally, the end of Erdogan’s efforts to pressure Bashar Assad into meeting certain conditions and signing a new version of the Adana Agreement of 1998, will be seen as a relief by the Syrian regime. The agreement that enabled the handover of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan to the Syrian regime, allowed Turkey to authorize its forces to enter Syrian territory if necessary.

Despite attempts to spread news of international leaders contacting the Assad regime, a sense of relief will not last long. In fact, the world, including powerful Arab nations, will increase its focus on Syria, albeit from a humanitarian perspective, rather than for the purpose of rehabilitating a regime that is aware it is at war with its own people and lacks autonomy in decision-making.

The Syrian regime has become a follower of the Islamic Republic of Iran. This development will likely be welcomed by Syrian Kurds, represented by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The SDF’s ties to the US will strengthen, and they will have more freedom of action as a result of their relationship with the US and the reduction of Turkish pressure.

The devastating earthquake that struck southern Turkey and northern Syria was a tragic event that overshadowed all other news around the globe. But the resulting political realities, both in terms of Turkey, President Erdogan and its regional role, and the Syrian regime, cannot be ignored.

The fate of the Syrian regime is now hostage to the destiny of the Iranian regime and the various regional issues it is associated with. Ultimately, the Western world will return to its interests in how to address Iran’s nuclear program, as well as the Iranian regime’s destructive role in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and elsewhere.

Attention will be paid to Iranian militias and their presence in southern Syria, and whether or not Iran will respond to the recent Israeli strike which targeted a key military site in Isfahan possibly linked to the production of ballistic missiles. Here, it is worth noting the growing possibility of US-Israeli coordination on Iran, and its activities outside its borders.

The devastating earthquake in Turkey and Syria has brought to the forefront, not only the human tragedy of the event, with an estimated 20,000 dead and tens of thousands of displaced people, but also the political ramifications.

The earthquake raises questions about Turkey’s role in the region and the world. President Erdogan had been hoping for 2023 to be a year of new beginnings for Turkey, with the removal of restrictions imposed by treaties signed a century ago. The success of this will depend on two things: the outcome of the May elections and Erdogan’s ability to face reality rather than clinging to illusions. It is up to Erdogan to be more realistic in his dealings with Greece, rather than using it as a campaign issue for internal voter mobilization. – Kheir Allah Kheir Allah

The Chinese balloon and geopolitical connotations

Al-Ittihad, UAE, February 8

On February 4, the US took action against a Chinese balloon that had been flying over its airspace for several days. At the president’s instruction, US forces were poised to intercept the balloon, but on the recommendation of military leaders, the decision was made to wait until the balloon flew away from land before destroying it.

The balloon and its accompanying devices ultimately fell into the Atlantic Ocean off the South Carolina coast. Its remains will be recovered for careful examination.

This event raises the question: Why did China allow this to happen at a time when US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was preparing to visit Beijing and meet with President Xi Jinping to discuss ways to improve bilateral relations between the two countries?

According to US Republicans, the goal behind the balloon incursion was to humiliate the Biden administration, showcasing China’s growing disdain for America as a weak world power.

When presented with the balloon’s flight path, the Chinese response was that it was simply a matter of a weather-monitoring balloon that had deviated from its original path. China expressed its outrage when it was shot down.

The American media suggests that the Chinese government is facing internal pressure, due to dissatisfaction with the COVID-19 closure policy which has led to an economic recession. Xi hoped Blinken’s visit would help create a more balanced relationship between the US and China.

However, Blinken canceled his visit without specifying a new date, which is unfortunate as any improvement in US-Chinese relations is to the benefit of both countries, especially considering their shared economic interests. As pressure mounts in the US to reduce reliance on China for consumer goods, and to stem the flow of American technology to the country due to mismanaged trade policies and reported cases of industrial espionage, the consequences of a major disruption in economic ties between the two nations would be disastrous.

US intelligence sources have suggested that the balloon in question belonged to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army and was part of a large military arsenal. This incident is intertwined with the ongoing territorial disputes between China and its maritime neighbors, concerning access to the South China Sea.

For years, China has maintained that most of the South China Sea is under its sovereignty, and that the US and other naval powers are encroaching on its maritime space. However, other nations have vehemently contested these claims, asserting that China has no legal right to interfere with international maritime traffic.

It is anticipated that China will become more assertive in its opposition to the US presence in the contested waters, potentially increasing the risk of a military conflict that both sides would undoubtedly prefer to avoid.

The gravity of the situation with regard to China’s hardening stance toward Taiwan is clear, and President Biden addressed this in his State of the Union address to Congress on February 7. He acknowledged the challenge the US faces in its competition with China, and asserted that “betting against America was never a good bet.”

His statement was a reminder of the US commitment to safeguarding Taiwan’s autonomy and freedom from the threat of Chinese aggression.– Jeffrey Kemp

What can history teach us about current and future crises?

Al-Ahram, Egypt, February 10

Why does the current economic crisis, with its high inflation and devaluation of the Egyptian pound, seem more severe than the crises that followed the 2011 revolution? Over the past 12 years, the Egyptian population has had to endure a challenging political, economic, social and security landscape alongside the ambition to build a prosperous nation.

Despite this, the general consensus is that the present situation is far more dire than before, and that the sacrifices made to get to this point often are underappreciated. Questions of “what is in it for me?” are often posed in the media and online, but there is an absence of understanding of the process of nation-building and the global experiences in this field.

The concept of development is seen as creating tangible assets for the state, without consideration of the need for explanation or logic. What is neglected is that the national project should be focused on managing wealth and not managing poverty. Every decision has a time and a cost, and it is those who came before us that paved the way for the difficult task of building a country and a nation.

The Egyptian narrative of what has transpired has always been fragmented. It is unclear how the new administrative capital is linked to the Decent Life Initiative or to efforts to reduce slums and promote public health.

The sacrifices of five million workers, foremen, engineers and designers have largely gone unnoticed as they worked in three shifts on each project, a pace unheard of since the construction of the Aswan High Dam.

As the waters of the Red and Mediterranean seas passed over the heads of workers in the Suez Canal tunnels, ships carrying goods and commodities from around the world sailed by. Projects from the New Delta to the Egyptian Walkway on the Nile River were completed without fanfare, with the counter-propaganda summing up the whole effort as merely “roads and bridges.”

The other narrative, however, tells of the heroic, hardworking and dedicated people behind these efforts. It is this narrative that should be remembered.

The content of economic discourse often has been lacking in useful information, and discussions have become overly partisan. The economic crisis can only be addressed with science, knowledge, will and a deep understanding of past successes and failures.

The requirements of the International Monetary Fund are not new, and have been discussed by many Egyptian governments in the past. What is clear is that unexpected events can occur; for example, the sudden flight of capital when the Ukrainian war began.

But, as evidenced by countries like India and China, sustainable growth is achievable if the necessary lessons are learned. To this end, it may be beneficial to form an early warning group to gather information and present options, much like the climate and weather institutions that predict earthquakes and hurricanes.

It is essential that Egyptians do not overlook the lessons of the past. – Abd Al-Moneim Said 

Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb.