Voices from the Arab press: From the Gulf to the Red Sea

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

 GOV. RON DESANTIS in Tampa, Florida. (photo credit: JOE RAEDLE/GETTY IMAGES)
GOV. RON DESANTIS in Tampa, Florida.

From the Gulf to the Red Sea 

Al-Ahram, Egypt, May 27

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My recent trip to Jeddah was not merely for political commentary on the Arab League Summit; I also acted as part of an Egyptian media delegation, engaged in dialogues with colleagues across the Arab world. For me, the journey was an opportunity to assess what had transpired in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia one year after another summit – an Arab-American summit.

Egypt’s transition from the symbolic “river to the sea” is being realized; the Nile epitomizes our nation’s existence while the sea translates into broadened horizons through our country’s connections to three continents. Likewise, Saudi Arabia’s geographic, demographic, and geo-economic factors lend it a unique weight in the Gulf region, evidenced by its population, oil resources, and the ever-growing Iranian threat.

A momentous new development on the Red Sea, in the Al-Ula Governorate, is coming to life these days, with the construction of the city of Neom, which promises to be a technological marvel. Likewise, Jeddah, the port city, is also experiencing a revival with the introduction of tourism, logistics, island development, and even the establishment of a regional organization for the Red Sea.

This surge marks a major transformation that will diversify the region’s revenue sources, and realize its goal of becoming an essential hub located near the tri-continental juncture of Asia, Europe, and Africa. It is important to note that these changes do not diminish the importance of the Nile in Egypt or the Gulf in Saudi Arabia, but rather create an additional powerhouse that increases the strength of the Arab world while opening up a range of unprecedented opportunities for its citizens. – Abdel Monem Said

Florida Governor Ron Desantis speaks during a campaign rally by then US president Donald Trump at Pensacola International Airport in Pensacola, Florida, US, October 23, 2020. (credit: TOM BRENNER/REUTERS)
Florida Governor Ron Desantis speaks during a campaign rally by then US president Donald Trump at Pensacola International Airport in Pensacola, Florida, US, October 23, 2020. (credit: TOM BRENNER/REUTERS)

DeSantis and the Road to the White House

Al Arabiya, Saudi Arabia, May 26

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced his intention to run for the US presidential primary race in 2024. The young governor has become a phenomenon in the Republican Party and is perhaps the only competition to former president Donald Trump, who is advancing, despite all hardships, in his bid to again clinch the Republican nomination.

It is undeniable that DeSantis has a charismatic persona, a glowing record, and a family unit that almost looks like that of the late president John F. Kennedy. Indeed, Ron DeSantis has all the attributes that have led politicians to enter the White House. With a doctorate in law from prestigious Harvard University, DeSantis is considered to be a member of the highly educated American intelligentsia. His service in the US Armed Forces, along with the Bronze Star for his bravery, has enabled him to obtain the so-called “green light” from the military.

DeSantis’ foray into politics began when he served in the US House of Representatives from 2013 to 2018, before officially becoming the governor of Florida in 2019. Yet where the young governor stands ideologically is still a conundrum to many, especially given the numerous stances DeSantis has expressed over the past year.

The darling of the new Republican Party routinely makes the rounds via traditional as well as social media, becoming a leader in the war of ideas that his party has seen fit to wage against a broad range of ideologically diverse politicians, companies and intellectuals, particularly from the Left. Conservatives have helped shape the upcoming presidential contest into one of cultural, ideological, and dogmatic divisions.

DeSantis has taken a hard-line stance on abortion, introducing restrictive laws at six weeks of pregnancy that were even too much for Trump to stomach. This raises the question of how deeply his religious convictions really run, and should his Catholicism be an active part of his decisions, or will it be a dormant force as is the case with President Joe Biden, who is Catholic yet openly supports abortion?

Besides abortion, there are further issues that reveal DeSantis’ rightward leanings. He has ordered schools in Florida to refrain from teaching theories of racial equality and organizing discussions about sexual identity. As more steps are taken to legalize same-sex relationships, and their advocates become more vocal in different states, DeSantis has expressed his rejection of what he calls “fraudulent tolerance” regarding the LGBT community in the US.

This wins over millions of traditional conservatives but also alienates millions of others who see him as being extreme. DeSantis appears far removed from circles that favor the casual use of firearms among civilians, yet he did not directly address the matter of the Second Amendment to the US Constitution, which concerns this Right.

The issue of illegal immigration, on the other hand, is one of those issues on which DeSantis takes a firm stance, and he has not let up on his claims that the Biden Administration’s lax policies at the border have enabled a massive influx of undocumented immigrants into the country. He continues to emphasize what he views as “the damaging impacts of illegal immigration resulting from the federal government’s careless border policies.”

A follower of DeSantis’ ideology might be perplexed, especially since he does not uphold the consensus of the broader Republican Party, as evidenced in his stance on abortion. This begs the question: Who is placing their faith in the Florida governor? Banning abortion is popular among some conservatives in the Republican voting base, yet this has caused many to swing their votes in favor of the Democrats.

It is no secret that the Democrats have been a hindrance to many of DeSantis’ initiatives, particularly those spearheaded by the more progressive wing of the party and the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Recently, the DNC described DeSantis’ abortion ban as “extreme” and declared that it “disrupts women’s ability to make health care decisions before they even know they are pregnant.”

It has been widely speculated that DeSantis could be in the running for the White House in 2024 or 2028, which one can infer from the title of his recent memoir, The Courage to Be Free: Florida’s Blueprint for America’s Revival. The book offers an understanding of DeSantis’ convictions, although he has shied away from discussing his potential ambitions on the national stage.

Nevertheless, it is clear that his administration in Florida is a reflection of his values and views on American politics. The trajectory of DeSantis’ life has demonstrated that he is a paragon of nobility among politicians: One who is able and willing to stand by his conscience, regardless of possible consequences or rewards.

This staunchness sets him apart, raising him above engaging in political disputes and entrusting him with the noble aim of improving America and restoring its damaged moral compass. Could DeSantis be America’s next leader? – Emile Amin

Guidance and education, not indoctrination

Independent Arabia, Saudi Arabia, May 25

Every educational system in the advanced world is currently experiencing a state of emergency. This emergency surrounds emerging digital technologies and artificial intelligence (AI). It is necessary to revise curricula, contemplate shortening the amount of time spent in high school, update textbooks, and rethink the settings and delivery of education.

As we move into a digital reality, it is essential to ensure that education evolves to keep pace with this rapidly shifting revolution. Questions posed by educators and politicians in the US Congress recently brought Sam Altman, the CEO of the groundbreaking tech company OpenAI, before an open hearing.

The technology, which was released mere months ago, can provide written information in multiple languages within seconds. The purpose of the hearing was to understand in greater detail the warnings that Altman and others have issued about pressing legislation regarding the proper uses of AI before it’s too late.

Those in Congress and academic circles are considering the influence this rapid flow of data will have on studies, education, scientific research, and scholarly publications. Educators are advocating for a change in the traditional approach to education, shifting it away from indoctrination and toward guidance and fostering skills of thought and analysis. We cannot accept a generation indoctrinated with memorized knowledge who are unable to reflect, discuss, evaluate or refute it.

The integration of artificial intelligence has brought about an evolution of the teaching-student-place triad. Consequently, this calls for the preparedness of modern educators to understand the implications of digital transformation and the use and applications of AI in education.

Having been part of the education system for over 40 years – as a student, teacher, teaching assistant, and lecturer – I have witnessed the drastic changes between the generations before and after the digital revolution. We now live in a world of smartphones and laptops that require our educators to be tech-savvy and open-minded.

I have witnessed fading human and cognitive engagement with my students. In some lectures, this has led to utter disconnection. I have found myself reinventing lectures repeatedly over the decades in an attempt to keep up with the ever-changing tools. The traditional blackboard has become obsolete, having been replaced by computer technology. Pens have become a relic of the past, and paper and books are in short supply.

Such a drastic change is unsettling and reflects the disconnect between modern technology and traditional learning. I stood before a generation fixated on their screens, seemingly unconcerned with discussing, debating, or embracing a topic of discussion. My colleagues and I felt the weight of our responsibility, and we are still committed to proposing a renewal that constantly challenges the status quo, to prevent indoctrination and the obstacles posed by traditional education.

High school graduates arrive at the university without the critical thinking needed to challenge and criticize the opinions and beliefs they hear around them. Consequently, critical analysis and questioning are not encouraged in the minds of students who are programmed to accept and submit to their teachers’ teachings without criticism or review.

The traditional teaching of history often mixes religion with facts, which grants a sense of impenetrable sanctity to events and figures from the past. This creates a culture of dependence and intellectual stagnation, passed down to successive generations. For example, we may gain a religious generation; however, this does not prevent them from cheating on exams or plagiarizing scientific research.

In fact, many believe that cheating in worldly sciences is permissible with the blessing of religious dogma. In this age of digital information and artificial intelligence, we must ask ourselves: How can we better impart knowledge to future generations? Rather than adhering to traditional indoctrination, is there a more effective and ethical educational system that we can turn to in order to better equip our youth for the future? – Saad Bin Tefla AlAjmi

France is only afraid of Sunni terrorism

Asharq Al-Awsat, Egypt, May 26

Observers were angered by the remarks from French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin, as he spoke with the French Press Agency from New York. Darmanin argued that Sunni terrorism constitutes the greatest threat to France, particularly as Paris will host the 2024 Summer Olympics.

He said: “Americans may be more focused on issues like white supremacy or rampant mass shootings, but it is essential that they remember that Sunni terrorism is perceived as the number one threat in Europe.”

He discussed two kinds of perils: one internal, consisting of self-radicalized French citizens, and one external, consisting of secret cells penetrating France’s borders. The fear expressed by Darmanin is based on Islamic State cells unveiled in many European countries.

Most recently, there have been reports of Maghreb-based cells in France, Belgium, and other parts of Europe, alongside other incidents involving Islamic State militants in India, Pakistan, Libya, and London. We have seen a sinister trend of suicide bombings, vehicles being used to mow down civilians, and individuals resorting to the use of knives to carry out attacks.

All of these acts of terror are a grim reminder of Islamic State’s global reach. The memories of al-Qaida’s attacks on the streets and trains of Britain and Spain remain vivid. The evidence of their destructive capabilities is abundant, so the French minister was right to emphasize the security of his nation as well as his European neighbors.

But is that all? The answer, Monsieur Gérald, is an unequivocal no. Who embraces leaders like Abu Hamza Al-Masri, Abu Qatada al-Filistini, and the instigators of terrorism who have been active in London and other European cities for decades? Who inhibits Arab countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE from taking action against terrorist cells in their territory, on the grounds that these countries are suppressing democracy and civil rights? Another thing, Monsieur Gérald: I personally agree with you about your concern. But how about the terrorism sponsored by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and its affiliates?!

On November 27, Belgium is set to try Iranian diplomat Asadollah Asadi for numerous criminal charges including terrorism and attempted mass murder. Asadi was apprehended in Germany in 2018 and was subsequently extradited to Belgium. Reports suggest that, acting on direct orders from Iran, Asadi plotted and funded the attempted slaughter of several attendees at an Iranian opposition gathering in Villepinte, a Parisian suburb.

Professor Fares Khashan’s article in the Lebanese newspaper An-Nahar reported that, according to a Belgian police report, Mr. Asadi said, in a meeting held at his request last March, that armed groups in Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, Syria, and Iran were keeping an eye on the proceedings of his trial. He warned that these groups would not be satisfied if the verdict were to turn against him, and they would take vigilante-style actions to undermine Belgium’s stability and security. Have you commented on any of those threats, Monsieur Gérald? – Meshary Al-Dhaidi

Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb.