Voices from the Arab press: Space and empowerment of Saudi women

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

 RAYYANAH BARNAWI, Saudi Arabia’s first female astronaut.  (photo credit: Axiom Space/Handout via Reuters)
RAYYANAH BARNAWI, Saudi Arabia’s first female astronaut.
(photo credit: Axiom Space/Handout via Reuters)

Space and empowerment of Saudi women

Al Arabiya, Saudi Arabia, March 2

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A few days ago, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia announced that it would send the first Saudi female astronaut, Rayana Barnawi, to the International Space Station during the second quarter of this year. She will be accompanied by a male counterpart, Ali AlQarni. However, it is worth noting that Prince Sultan bin Salman Al Saud was the first Arab and Saudi astronaut, having traveled to space in 1985. 

The selection of Barnawi is a major step forward in the field of women’s empowerment, and a direct result of Vision 2030, which was initiated and is led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. This is a remarkable accomplishment that is sure to inspire women everywhere. Space travel is no longer a matter of entertainment or luxury, nor is it political propaganda for a particular country or regime. It has become an essential part of modern life, especially as the world has become increasingly crowded and resources have become scarce. Consequently, talk of a “space economy” began to emerge. Studies, particularly in the US, have shown that investing in space industries yields a superior return on every dollar spent, and these inventions and discoveries ultimately benefit the people of Earth with innovative and peaceful applications. 

Considering this, the Saudi Space Commission launched the kingdom’s astronaut program in September of last year. The aim of the program is to train experienced Saudi personnel to undertake long- and short-term space flights, participate in international experiments and research and take advantage of the promising opportunities that the space sector around the world has to offer. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is taking strides towards international contribution to serve humanity through its astronaut program. Health, sustainability, and space technology are at the forefront of the program’s goals. The country is committed to finding creative solutions to economic dilemmas. With the launch of Barnawi into space, the kingdom is investing in human capital, which is the best and most fruitful type of investment.

The Council of the Saudi Space Commission is dedicated to recruiting top university graduates in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics to its ranks. This will ensure that the kingdom is competitive in the global race towards space exploration. It will increase Saudi Arabia’s presence on the map of countries investing in space science. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is demonstrating its belief in full equality between men and women by preparing the first Saudi female astronaut to visit space. This reflects its commitment to promoting and protecting human rights, such as equal access to education, health, economic and social rights, as well as the transparency of rights within the justice system and the participation of women in global development. 

Just 10 years ago, Saudi women were fighting for the right to obtain a driver’s license; now, women are on their way to space and hold advanced places in diplomatic and ministerial positions. Without exaggeration or underestimation, the preparation of a Saudi female astronaut reflects the confidence of the country’s senior leadership, under the guidance of the custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and the crown prince, in the ability of women. This confidence has been reinforced in women and younger generations of the kingdom, giving them the impetus to take on challenges in all fields and become active members of Saudi society. 

 TURKISH FOREIGN MINISTER Mevlut Cavusoglu (R) meets with Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry in Mersin, Turkey, Feb. 27.  (credit: Egyptian Foreign Ministry/Handout via Reuters) TURKISH FOREIGN MINISTER Mevlut Cavusoglu (R) meets with Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry in Mersin, Turkey, Feb. 27. (credit: Egyptian Foreign Ministry/Handout via Reuters)

The launch of Saudi women into space marks a momentous occasion for the world. The Railways Authority recently announced the graduation of 32 women to become the first-ever female drivers of the Haramain train, an unprecedented experience in the kingdom. On its Twitter account, the authority exclaimed: “32 Saudi female leaders are setting off at full speed to realize their great dream of driving one of the fastest trains in the world, thus becoming the first batch of female leaders of the Haramain Express.” 

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is rapidly progressing towards its Vision 2030 goal, thanks in no small part to the energy and potential of its youth, especially the women, who make up more than half of all university graduates. Saudi women seek glory for their homeland and future generations. The future that awaits young Saudi generations is one of immense promise and potential. – Emile Amin 

Israel’s judicial crisis

Al Ittihad, UAE, March 4

Demonstrations in Israel’s streets have gradually grown in response to the Netanyahu government’s measures concerning the judiciary. Despite the passing of the Judiciary Law in its preliminary readings in the Knesset, the underlying issue is larger than the Supreme Court’s powers and functions. It is related to the relationship between state institutions, the government’s information apparatus, and the desire to limit Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s power. 

Netanyahu’s battle with the judiciary is only a precursor to what is to come. The opposition to his judicial reforms has steadily expanded, garnering the attention of notable businessmen, former military personnel, religious leaders, and scientists – a precedent unseen in the history of the Israeli state. This situation reveals the depth of instability Israel is facing. These internal rifts within Israeli society can’t simply be ignored. The opposition to Netanyahu has grown beyond Israel’s borders, with a strong mobilization in Jewish organizations, particularly in the United States, where influential circles have spoken out against the Netanyahu government. This signals that the instability in Israel is not exclusively a result of disagreements over the extent of Netanyahu’s power, but rather a wider issue. 

As the Israeli Supreme Court has the power to deem Netanyahu unfit for office, this could have far-reaching consequences. Netanyahu is currently being tried on multiple charges and is attempting to delay the trials for as long as he can. Nonetheless, the opposition parties lack the ability and experience to effectively counter Netanyahu, even with the support of President Isaac Herzog, who has gone beyond his authority to find solutions to the current crisis. The Israeli Right believes that the Supreme Court has systematically ruled in favor of liberal voices while undermining conservative ones. In recent years, the decisions of the Supreme Court have sought to limit the government’s control over religious institutions. The religious parties, as well as other right-wing parties in Netanyahu’s coalition, are attempting to pass measures in the West Bank and Jerusalem in order to accelerate their settlement plan. This includes renouncing all agreements made with the Palestinians, such as the Oslo and Paris accords.

This unrest has led to seven major demonstrations in Israel, with the possibility of further escalation if the coalition ministers, such as Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, continue to pursue their plan. Netanyahu faces a significant challenge in his ability to take external action such as striking Iran due to the divided internal political landscape of his current coalition, which has limited experience and is focused on his own narrow interests. This will lead to a growing risk of societal escalation and ultimately, an unstable state of affairs in Israel. – Tarek Fahmy 

A nuclear Iran within 12 days?

An-Nahar, Lebanon, March 3

The debate is no longer about whether Iran will become a nuclear power but rather about when it will be able to do so. This comes after the Pentagon reported that Iran could produce a nuclear weapon in as little as 12 days. William Burns, the head of the Central Intelligence Agency, further lent credence to this claim by noting that Iran has the capability to enrich uranium to 90%, the level needed for a military nuclear program. Speculation has abounded over the past two years regarding the potential revival of the 2015 nuclear deal. Both Iran and the United States had pledged to adhere to the deal, yet no progress was made until April 2022. 

In September, European foreign policy chief Josep Borrell presented a comprehensive paper for the agreement and Washington accepted it. However, Tehran stalled and proposed conditions, such as forcing Washington to lift sanctions on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in conjunction with their acceptance of the deal. Despite Borrell’s efforts and the pressure group in the White House led by Robert Malley, the American official responsible for the Iranian issue, the agreement may have been derailed by the Russian war on Ukraine.

Both Israel and regional neighbors have already warned that Iran’s nuclear program is not peaceful and civilian in purpose, but rather a cover for a secret military program. Tehran has increased the quantities of highly enriched uranium 19 times more than permitted and refuses to comply with the 2015 nuclear agreement. This suggests that it is not a matter of diplomatic maneuvering. Rather, Iran’s goal is to produce the first Iranian nuclear bomb as soon as possible. 

The regime is further weakened by the wave of protests that followed the death of Mahsa Amini, which has caused a disturbance in the foundations of the regime and its legitimacy. Today, we must consider the prospect of a nuclear Iran. Is it possible to exist peacefully with it on a regional and global scale? If not, what are the available options to address this problem? Could an Israeli-American strike be launched to disable the nuclear program? What might the repercussions and outcomes of the Iranian regime’s reaction be?...

We must focus our attention on the perilous situation that the region and even the global community faces if the West were to initiate a military attack against Iran’s nuclear program. It is also important to consider the consequences if Iran were to acquire nuclear capabilities. Would the mullahs act with more restraint than their current behavior indicates? These are difficult questions that must be considered in light of the fear of annihilation that such actions could bring. – Ali Hamada 

A crack in Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood

Al-Watan, Egypt, March 3

Successive strikes against the Muslim Brotherhood in both the East and West have escalated in recent weeks. Uruguay has officially classified the Brotherhood as a banned terror group while Egypt and Turkey’s relations have improved following the visit of the Egyptian foreign minister to Ankara. Additionally, Austria has taken action against the Brotherhood, and senior Brotherhood figures have been arrested in Tunisia. Comoros has also recently declared 69 entities around the world as terrorist groups and organizations, including the Brotherhood.

These developments have caused cracks in the walls of the organization to widen, resulting in an exacerbation of existing crises. Recently, prominent Egyptian political activist and opposition figure Mamdouh Hamza returned to Egypt after more than three years abroad, a few days after his name was removed from the arrival watchlist. Officials welcomed him at Cairo airport and proclaimed that Egypt welcomes its loyal sons within the country, not outside of it. Within the Muslim Brotherhood, the internal struggle between the London and Istanbul factions has reached levels unprecedented since the movement’s founding. This conflict has had a detrimental effect on the organization, culminating in discord and destruction. 

All branches of the Brotherhood are suffering, including the Egyptian branch, due to the efforts of the Egyptian security forces to weaken the organization and a lack of signs of any imminent breakthrough. The Brotherhood of Egypt is historically, organizationally and psychologically closer to the Istanbul Front. Within the Brotherhood of Egypt, there are voices calling out the Istanbul Front’s inadequate management of the group. Some newspapers reported on the appointment of Salah Abdel-Haq of the London Front as the next general guide of the Brotherhood. Consequently, the Istanbul Front is attempting to acquire full support from the Egyptian Brotherhood to counterbalance that decision. 

The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood’s position appears to be one of fragmentation, confusion, and personal loyalties. This is likely to remain the case unless a decision is issued by the imprisoned leaders of the group, legitimizing and strengthening the position of one of the parties. However, this possibility is difficult to realize, as the Egyptian state apparatus is preventing communication between the imprisoned Brotherhood members and the outside world. This siege on the organization has led to a vision of chaos and division, with the two fronts exchanging moral and material accusations openly. It is not out of the question that some members may even go so far as to terminate their membership. – Hussein Al-Qadi 

Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb.