Voices from the Arab press: The Jeddah Summit: Practice, not just theory

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

 SAUDI ARABIAN Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (R) meets with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, May 19.  (photo credit: SYRIAN PRESIDENCY/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
SAUDI ARABIAN Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (R) meets with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, May 19.

The Jeddah Summit: Practice, not just theory

Al-Masry Al-Youm, Egypt, May 20

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The last Arab League summit I attended was the one held in Algeria in November 2022. Despite being marked as a summit of Arab unity, the meeting was characterized by divisions and hostility within the Arab world.

Yesterday’s summit, hosted by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in Jeddah, had a different tone: it revolved around the concept of unification.

The geographical distance between Algiers, on the Mediterranean Sea, and Jeddah, on the Red Sea, was a metaphor for the difference between the two summits.

The Jeddah summit emphasized the importance of Arab unity and the need for Arab countries to come together in the wake of the growing regional crises. The invitation sent by King Salman to Syria, which was accepted by President Bashar Assad, marked a significant milestone on this path toward Arab unity. With determination and with the help of time, this summit signified a willingness to correct mistakes of the past and foster an atmosphere of collaboration and solidarity among member states.

When Assad arrived in Jeddah yesterday morning, the cameras were out in full force, clamoring for a glimpse of him. It is understandable why they were so eager; this is Syria’s return to the Arab League after a significant absence, and this moment marks an important new chapter in the country’s history. Ultimately, presidents come and go, but homeland remains; and it’s the only thing we can truly count on to remain constant.

 SUPPORTERS OF India’s main opposition Congress party celebrate after initial poll results in Karnataka elections, May 13.  (credit: Adnan Abidi/File/Reuters) SUPPORTERS OF India’s main opposition Congress party celebrate after initial poll results in Karnataka elections, May 13. (credit: Adnan Abidi/File/Reuters)

The Jeddah summit sought to put theory into practice, demonstrating the application of the unification message that previous summits cited but never lived up to. As Aristotle famously said, philosophy, or knowledge, is brought from the heavens to the earth. In the same spirit, the Jeddah summit set out to make the thesis of the Algerian summit a living reality. Its success was exemplified by Syria’s integral participation in the sessions. In doing so, the Jeddah summit put the goal of unification into practice, making it a practice rather than just theory. – Suleiman Judeh

A pivotal victory for the Indian National Congress

Al-Ittihad, UAE, May 19

This week, elections for the Legislative Assembly were held in the southern Indian state of Karnataka, home to India’s “Silicon Valley.” In a surprising upset, the Indian National Congress won by a wide margin, taking 135 out of 224 seats—55 more than it had held in the previous elections. This result removed the Bharatiya Janata Party from the seat of power in the state.

The recent election result in Kerala is a setback for the BJP, which secured only 66 seats. It is noteworthy that the party is predominately based in northern India, specifically the heart of the Hindi-speaking region and most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, which holds 80 federal parliamentary seats.

Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s 2014 victory and again in 2019, the BJP has been keen on expanding its political reach to the south, starting in Karnataka with state elections in 2015 and subsequently launching serious initiatives to gain influence in Kerala. There is no doubt that the electoral defeat of the BJP in the state of Karnataka serves as a reflection point on the performance of its government.

This result testifies that there is no single formula for success in a country as vast and diverse as India with its multilingual, ethnic, religious and local identities. Political parties must be cognizant of continuously evolving realities, which vary from state to state, and even within the same state. Moreover, in national elections, people in India consider numerous factors beyond the scope of local matters.

After two terms in office, Modi and the BJP remain popular, but the Karnataka election victory has provided the Congress Party with a newfound sense of confidence. After a string of defeats in the 2018 elections, the exception being in Himachal Pradesh, this latest success serves as a boost ahead of the general election. This is an important demonstration that the Congress Party has not gone into hibernation and is prepared to face the challenges posed by the ruling party.

The BJP is a powerful political force known for its aggressive campaigning. While the Congress’s victory in the Karnataka elections is a major achievement, the BJP still maintains a level of advantage with the looming 2024 general elections. It is uncertain how the Congress can use this victory to bolster its election strategies, though an opposition coalition could be a step in the right direction. The Karnataka triumph has empowered the Congress Party, granting it an advantage in negotiations with other, smaller political organizations.

The Congress is the only nationwide political force, apart from the BJP, with entrenched activists and a pervasive presence. Nonetheless, the party faces a daunting mission ahead. Gaining the support of localities for state elections depends on variable electoral considerations, and Congress will have to rack up a few more triumphs this year, before the 2024 general elections, in order to demonstrate that it can effectively challenge the BJP.

This year, five more Indian states are set to go to the polls. The Congress Party is currently ruling Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, and retaining power in those two states could pose a considerable challenge to BJP in the national polls. Moreover, with Karnataka giving a boost to Congress’s electoral prospects, the party needs to carefully plan and strategize its electoral campaigns to outmatch the BJP at the national level. – Zikru al-Rahman

Mariupol: One year later

Asharq al-Awsat, London, May 19

Almost a year ago, when the last Ukrainian defenders left the decimated city of Mariupol, many had assumed that the war initiated by Russian President Vladimir Putin would culminate in a Russian victory. Since then, these initial presumptions have been debunked.

One of these claims was that the 80-day battle for Mariupol could not be enacted in other Ukrainian cities and towns under Russian attack. The defenders of Mariupol had been largely led by a group of nationalist Ukrainians who were unafraid to die for their beliefs. Most of them were employees at Ukraine’s predominant steel mill, known for their cohesive spirit in times of adversity. The efforts of these patriots cannot be emulated in other parts of Ukraine.

Analysts initially believed that the losses Russia suffered in terms of lives and resources in the war with Ukraine would make it impossible for Russia to prolong the conflict. There was also a hope that the terrible images emerging from the conflict would galvanize international forces to bring the war to a swift conclusion. Unfortunately, what occurred was quite different. It created a sort of “pain threshold” for both parties, which accommodated the new pace and frequency of the war. Both sides are satisfied to demonstrate that the conflict still rages on, despite having achieved nothing conclusive. A negative equilibrium was formed, leading to an indefinite struggle or a “war of no tomorrow.”

The detrimental effects on both sides, be it military or civilian, pale in comparison to the atrocities seen in Chechnya and Syria, although the displacement of Ukrainians and Russians from their homes due to conscription should not be diminished. Under Putin’s leadership, Russia has turned to warfare to preserve his authority, eradicate real or imagined dissidents, and promote a bellicose nationalist message to bolster his sense of legitimacy.

According to Russian folklore, there’s no such thing as a morally upright tsar. Will this conflict persist for years or even for good? Do not overlook the fact that Europe has a long history of wars, including the Thirty Years’ War and the Hundred Years’ War. More recently, Russia experienced a decade-long conflict in Afghanistan before suffering a level of hardship it could no longer tolerate.

All in all, it is generally accepted that the Ukrainian crisis does not pose an insurmountable threat and may even offer certain benefits to Russia. Western democracies that back Ukraine hope that their diplomatic efforts will constrain Russia and check any hostile behavior on its part.

Meanwhile, the Chinese administration has been capitalizing on the situation to strengthen its presence in the Russian Far East through the immigration of Chinese citizens and significant investments in agriculture and mining. China aims to establish itself as a credible alternative to Western hegemony, thus creating a contemporary version of the bipolar balance of power.

Unfortunately, European nations might miss out on the benefits of the war, facing grave economic and political consequences. Inflation and shortages in the European Union are already taking a toll in the household of every EU citizen. Additionally, multiple EU members have been upping the amount of money promised to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, drastically escalating their financial commitments. The war in Ukraine could have long-term, damaging effects on the European Union in multiple ways.

At the EU summit in Reykjavik, and the Council of Europe, the delicate issue was raised of whether to start official negotiations concerning Ukraine’s request to become a full EU member. This problem could lead to divisions within the EU, with some countries pushing for immediate negotiations and others firmly refusing them. Granting Ukraine extra privileges could also upset other applicants that have been faithfully complying with the Russian Federation’s requirements over a considerable period, as well as Turkey, which has foregone applying since 1998. French President Emmanuel Macron recently declared that Ukraine belongs to the “European family,” though the same can be argued for other countries such as Albania, Macedonia and Serbia.

NATO officials have recently put forth the idea of granting Ukraine a form of quasi-membership, dubbing it a “fully protected partner.” This is a dangerous proposition, as it not only gives Ukraine a false sense of security but also might present to other countries the impression that NATO support can be guaranteed without official membership. Further, this rhetoric would be seized by Putin, who is already claiming to be a victim of NATO aggression.

The 19th-century military theorist Antoine-Henri Jomini understood war to be full of uncertainty and mystery. He emphasized the importance of forming a vision of how a war might end with some semblance of victory in order to minimize losses. However, as neither party in this conflict appears to have any idea how it will turn out, the world is left in an ominous state of uncertainty. – Amir Taheri

Accountability before the law: The Bishop of Canterbury & Pope Benedict

Al Qabas, Kuwait, May 17

The archbishop of Canterbury was found guilty of speeding, and subsequently received a £510 fine and three points on his record. Despite his distinguished position – having placed the crown on King Charles III a few mere days before – neither his prestige nor the king’s coronation could save him.

It is heartening to see accountability and equity maintained in Britain, particularly considering the fact that the archbishop was traveling alone in his Volkswagen, without a driver or a bodyguard. We can only wish that this same commitment to justice will be seen in our region of the world. Years ago, a judge ruled that Queen Elizabeth’s nephew must pay a hefty fine for reckless driving. The judge argued that members of the royal family must set an example and be held to a higher standard than the rest of the public. It may take us centuries to fully comprehend the concept of blind justice – if we are fortunate enough to be given the time.

The archbishop of Canterbury’s recent traffic violation reminded me of a joke that circulated widely in the halls of the Vatican on Pope Benedict’s ascension to the papacy in 2005. On that occasion, he was gifted with a unique car from his motherland, Germany. Clearly enamored by the present, the pope decided to drive the vehicle himself, in defiance of traditional practice. Later that evening, he asked his driver to come along and sit in the back seat. Driving had been an experience the pope had not indulged in since his early 20s, when he entered the priesthood, but it was difficult to resist the temptation to drive the car quickly. Moments later, a police officer on a motorcycle pulled him over. As soon as the officer recognized him as the supreme pontiff, he stepped back and contacted his superior. The following conversation took place between them:

“Sir, I just caught a well-known individual speeding down a Rome street. What should I do?”

“Issue them a violation; no one is above the law,” the supervisor responded.

“But this individual is far more important than you can imagine,” the young cop said.

“Still issue them a violation, regardless of their status.” When the young cop continued pushing, the supervisor insisted: “I’ve told you twice: issue them a violation, no matter the degree of their notoriety.”

“But they are really well known and influential,” the cop held.

“What do you mean by noteworthy and influential?” the officer asked.

“Sir, I cannot say for certain who this individual is, but I do know the driver is His Eminence, Pope Benedict!” – Ahmed Al-Sarraf

Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb.