Voices from the Arab press: A Black Cleopatra?

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

 COULD BRAD PITT – seen at the Cesar Awards in Paris, Feb. 24 – play Nelson Mandela?  (photo credit: JOHANNA GERON/REUTERS)
COULD BRAD PITT – seen at the Cesar Awards in Paris, Feb. 24 – play Nelson Mandela?

A Black Cleopatra?

Asharq Al-Awsat, London, April 29

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Do filmmakers have the right to alter historical accounts to align with their own ideological and political leanings? Recently, a stir was created after Netflix announced they would be producing a documentary about the illustrious Egyptian Queen Cleopatra, with images depicting the monarch with Black African features. Netflix announced the release of a series of documentaries supported by male and female activists from the American Black Movement.

This trend, which is both cultural and artistic, attempts to counter racism and rewrite history in favor of Blacks. Mostafa Waziri, the secretary-general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, recently commented on the film, emphasizing that its portrayal of the iconic queen as a Black African woman is a falsification of history. He believes that this is particularly egregious since the movie is classified as a documentary, rather than a drama.

Waziri further highlighted that all statues depicting Cleopatra reflect her Hellenistic Greek features, such as light skin, a drawn nose, and thin lips. Dr. Nasser Makkawi, head of the Egyptian Antiquities Department at the Faculty of Archaeology at Cairo University, claims that the depiction of Cleopatra in this film contradicts the most basic historical facts and the accounts of historians, such as Plutarch and Cassius Dio. They recorded Roman history in Egypt during Queen Cleopatra’s reign, and confirmed that she was fair-skinned and of pure Macedonian descent.

It would have been possible to accept this absurd and fictitious portrayal of Cleopatra, provided that viewers understand it as such. Otherwise, it is an ideological falsehood. Do others have the right to present films with white characters, such as Brad Pitt playing the role of Nelson Mandela or Muhammad Ali? How would Black leaders react to such a decision? – Meshary Al-Dhaidi 

Sudanese developments and proposed initiatives

Al-Ittihad, UAE, April 27

International and regional efforts to resolve the Sudanese crisis will progress in multiple contexts, with the most significant being an approach taken from the top down. The international quartet, consisting of the US, Britain, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia, has taken a more active stance in the conflict that has been widely accepted, especially due to the presence of two influential Arab states, which gives it momentum and recognition from both warring parties.

 A SUDANESE refugee sells water to other refugees near the Sudan-Chad border, May 1.  (credit: Mahamat Ramadane/Reuters) A SUDANESE refugee sells water to other refugees near the Sudan-Chad border, May 1. (credit: Mahamat Ramadane/Reuters)

This must be taken into account. The African Union is actively pursuing an initiative, and the African Commission is taking action to confront the intricate reality of the ongoing and likely continuing conflicts. Meanwhile, IGAD countries – Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Uganda – continue to push for a cease-fire and a lasting armistice through negotiations.

This is why these mediations, as well as those proposed by regional neighbors, Israel, and Turkey, require real oversight and safeguards to ensure that both sides accept the proposed arrangement. The international rehabilitation of Sudan is a delicate undertaking, as the removal of Sudan from the list of state sponsors of terrorism necessitated global consensus.

Along with the reintegration of Sudan into the international community and the forgiveness of some of its debts, this process requires the country to accept responsibility as an international actor. Any other methods of resolution will be costly.

Ultimately, the goal of international mediators is to bring about a cease-fire first. This will be followed by negotiations between the two parties involved in the conflict, though the intensification of military action and the acquisition of new territory may complicate matters and prolong the current crisis. – Tarek Fahmy

The West’s selfish agenda

Okaz, Saudi Arabia, April 28

The West continues to push a unilateral agenda through its media outlets, claiming to support freedom of opinion while simultaneously suppressing any voices that challenge its own narrative. It has banned Russian channels, and fueled hatred against anything Russian, as evidenced by the racist comments of EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.

Moreover, this racism has extended to culture and sports. Despite all this, the West continues to champion the concepts of freedom and democracy, yet in reality, it is pursuing its own interests at the expense of the rest of the world.

The Israeli occupation, which has been backed by the West, and the wars fought in Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Libya, and other countries across the globe are all examples of Western imperialism. A burning question remains in the minds of those who have been subjected to a single Western view and double standards: Is it not time for the West to relinquish its extreme selfishness?

Despite its numerous faults, the West has had a significant impact on human history, both in terms of achievements and atrocities. It is time for Western thinkers and policymakers to reevaluate their imperialist doctrines and ambitions of dominating the world and its resources for their own gain at the expense of others.

The Munich Security Conference, which is being held this year amid a global crisis in energy and food, demonstrates the extent to which the West’s unilateral discourse has peaked, and its attempt to isolate those who disagree with them. In short, the Munich Security Conference did not bring anything new to the table.

The West seems almost unable to accept reality and change. It has abandoned press freedom, frozen individuals’ funds without judicial rulings, violated international agreements and suspended them unilaterally, and engaged in other unilateral actions.

Dialogue is the only way to achieve peace. This is what the Saudi foreign minister said during a dialogue session at the Munich Security Conference: “We continue to engage in dialogue with Ukraine and Russia in order to find opportunities for a solution.” The world is calling on the West to listen to reason and reject selfishness, control, and exploitation of resources from developing countries.

This includes ceasing the manipulation of political systems through coups, election interference, and other forms of political bullying. Granting visas to Russian diplomats to attend the winter session of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe was a positive step. Nevertheless, the members of the Russian delegation were not permitted to lay flowers at the monument of the Soviet soldiers.

The West’s unilateralism and hypersensitivity to non-Western cultures have led to political suicide in Europe and the weakening of the US dollar, as well as fueling conflicts worldwide. Consequently, the world is looking to end the West’s divisive discourse and its colonialist mentality that has lasted for centuries.

A multipolar world is the only way to guarantee dignity and prosperity for all, regardless of geographical location or cultural background, instead of the West claiming it has a right to be right and others to be wrong. – Osama Yamani 

Agents of war and fighters by proxy

An-Nahar, Lebanon, April 29

Mercenaries and their agents often take advantage of political conflicts and security unrest. This can be seen in the ongoing war in Sudan, where the Sudanese army and the Rapid Support Forces are in a heated conflict.

It’s important to note that mercenaries are not limited to those employed by military units, like the Russian Wagner Group, but also those who fight in proxy wars, such as violent extremist groups. The former fight for financial gain, while the latter may fight for moral and material gain, with their interests often driving them to take action. Proxy fighters may not be the primary cause of war, but they are certainly a major factor in sustaining it.

Acting on behalf of other parties, these mercenaries often lack any personal stake in the conflict and are often foreign nationals. The United Nations must criminalize mercenary activity and the international community must confront them with all necessary force and rigor. Only by standing up to the mercenary operators of these wars can the underlying causes of conflict be addressed.

Whether those who fight for money or doctrine, the organizations of violence and extremism they represent pose an equal danger. War agents are deployed to a number of countries torn by armed conflicts, such as Yemen, Syria, and Libya. They fight for one side of a conflict in exchange for money.

Here, it is impossible to distinguish between them and organizations of violence and extremism whose fighters come from around the globe, representing different nationalities. These foreign combatants are the gunpowder of wars that they have no stake in.

Reports suggest that the Russian Defense Ministry established a fighting group, known as Wagner, which it supervises. While it was described as a private company, the group has been involved in almost all of the ongoing wars and participates in armed conflicts across the globe. Not only does it provide services such as the sale of weapons and training, but it has also been known to extract diamond and gold wealth from certain countries and protect these mines.

Additionally, Wagner has been known to provide political advice. This group has been seen fighting alongside Russian forces in Ukraine, as well as guarding gold and diamond mines in Central Africa and Sudan. They have reportedly taken part in or stated their willingness to participate in Sudanese conflicts, and have sold weapons to one of the factions involved.

The danger posed by this group lies in their ability to prolong wars—including those of ISIS and other extremist groups, both local and regional—for financial gain, as well as for moral objectives. The US employed the so-called Arab Mujahideen in the Afghan war in 1979. Washington used these fighters to battle Moscow in Afghanistan, and ultimately, they were successful in their mission. This subsequently gave birth to al-Qaida, and recently in 2014, to ISIS. Similarly, the Russian Wagner Group is making its presence felt across Africa, with many extremist Islamic organizations also spreading through African capitals.

It is true that the international community is actively working to counteract religious extremist groups, but it is also important to address those who fight for money or other incentives. The peril of wars lies not in their commencement, but in their continuation. To prevent these wars is a difficult task, yet we must strive to stop them or their causes.

This can be done by taking decisive action against agents and proxy fighters, as well as introducing international legislation to hold countries accountable for supporting or using them. These agents of war are responsible for creating crises and igniting conflicts, resulting in death and destruction. It is thus lamentable that some countries and armies may resort to using the services of fighting groups, even those with Islamic affiliations, despite the fact that they should be condemned rather than embraced.

To quell wars and conflicts in the Middle East, Africa, and Eastern Europe, the international community must confront the agents of these wars and proxy fighters. Legislation should be in place to hold countries accountable for seeking the help of these fighters. Furthermore, international legislation should be enacted to combat their movement and presence. – Mounir Adeeb 

Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb.