Voices from the Arab press: Will sanctions help Lebanon lift itself up from chaos?

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

 AERIAL VIEW shows massive damage to the Beirut port after the Aug. 2020 blast. (photo credit: AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES)
AERIAL VIEW shows massive damage to the Beirut port after the Aug. 2020 blast.
(photo credit: AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES)

Will sanctions help Lebanon lift itself up from chaos?

An-Nahar, Lebanon, July 22

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The statement issued by the five-nation group on Lebanon – the US, France, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Egypt – in its recent meeting in Doha has ended the “time-buying” tactic that Lebanese politicians have deployed to date. The French initiative, which called for the nomination of Suleiman Frangieh for the presidency, was an element in this “buying of time” approach; much like the 2016 agreements that led to the promotion of Gen. Michel Aoun to the presidency.

In Doha, the five-nation group put forth presidential, procedural, economic, and sovereign standards to help Lebanon move toward a final solution. Still, some believe that laying out these goals only reveals the hidden intent of not achieving any of them. Many in Lebanon are still hoping for a peaceful resolution to the crisis in the region. Yet if carrots won’t work, then the international community will have to use sticks.

The US, EU, and Gulf Cooperation Council are ready to implement painful sanctions against those impeding Lebanon’s reconstruction process. A European diplomatic source who keeps close track of the Lebanese issue reported that there is a common agreement between Arab, European, and international parties that sanctions should be utilized if the current crisis continues to unfold.

Reports now sitting on decision-makers’ desks in Lebanon point to the investigation into the Beirut port explosion file as a starting point. In my view, the very forces that impede the democratic election of a president in Lebanon are those that obstruct the investigation into the August 4, 2020 port explosion in Beirut. Many of the suspects have enjoyed protection from their political patrons, blocking justice from being served to the 20 European victims who died in the disaster. EU policymakers are considering the option of launching a tribunal specializing in the case, which could work in collaboration with the Lebanese judicial investigator, Tarek Bitar.

To ensure accountability, international arrest warrants will be issued for the people identified by Bitar. This action would send a clear message to those who are hindering the political process in Lebanon, while also solidifying a show of solidarity with the Lebanese public. It would set right the path laid out by French President Emmanuel Macron, when his initiative failed to address the repeated and continuing call from the Lebanese people for an independent international investigative commission into the Beirut Port explosion.

 THE THREADS app, a competitor to Twitter. (credit: JUSTIN SULLIVAN/GETTY IMAGES)
THE THREADS app, a competitor to Twitter. (credit: JUSTIN SULLIVAN/GETTY IMAGES)

However, a diplomat familiar with the details of the initiative expressed the belief that this solution would provide the necessary push to the forces obstructing the democratic election of a president. He further pointed out that the opposition could leverage other diplomatic levers, such as the inclusion of Hezbollah’s political wing on the EU’s terrorism watchlist.

Still, it remains to be seen whether this vision can be translated into tangible action. For the moment, data suggests that the measures aimed at activating the sanctions clause will be delayed until the second visit scheduled by Macron’s envoy for Lebanon, former Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, to Beirut next week. – Fares Khashan

There is no need to fear AI

Al-Watan, Egypt, July 20

We hear and read about the potential impact of artificial intelligence (AI) and the upcoming technological revolution in reshaping our lives and indeed, the entire world. It is predicted that this transformation will drastically alter our personal and professional routines, leading to the potential demise of thousands of jobs. Consequently, numerous applications have appeared in various fields, rapidly intimating our lives.

For many years, journalists have been utilizing AI tools to generate and edit news. I have personally used AI to perform linguistic analysis of texts, which allows for quick and accurate summaries of information suitable for journalistic topics. This has sped up the editing process and increased the precision of the news content I generated.

The term “artificial intelligence” first made its rounds during the 20th century but did not gain the popularity it enjoys today. This is largely due to technological inaccessibility, the prevalence of illiteracy, and the prohibitive costs associated with its implementation.

AI is fundamentally based on data input by users. Thus, it can only be helpful to us if we “feed” it real-world information, from real users, over time. It cannot generate knowledge from thin air.

The dangers of AI are numerous and frightening. In a short time span, socio-political landscapes have been distorted by the proliferation of doctored images, fabricated texts, and even videos created utilizing deepfake technology. Individuals can suddenly be found in places they have never been, with words falsified to have come from their own mouths. Meanwhile, ordinary citizens struggle to verify the truth in what they watch, hear, or read.

The victims of this digital manipulation are those who lack the skills necessary to verify the authenticity of content. Artificial intelligence, akin to the newly launched Threads application – a competitor to the ever-popular Twitter digital platform – is not yet fully realized. Both remain a work in progress.

But I urge you not to be taken aback by the potential of artificial intelligence. Refrain from overstating its capabilities and don’t be afraid of what the future may hold. Change and progress don’t come overnight; equip yourself with the skills of the present to be well-prepared for tomorrow. – Ehab Saber

A groundbreaking Gulf-Central Asian summit

Asharq Al-Awsat, London, July 22

Last week, Jeddah welcomed several high-level summits. Tapping into ongoing diplomatic efforts, the leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council and five Central Asian nations – Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan – met with the aim of establishing new opportunities for collaboration, both domestically and on the international stage. These meetings have the potential to drive forward greater cooperation and growth for the future.

The world is undergoing a period of rapid reconfiguration. At the political, economic, and military levels, power dynamics are shifting, and new regional and international relations are being established. The global economy is being reshaped as we speak. We are witnessing changes in the way alliances are formed. New equations in geopolitics are being established, and priorities are shifting.

The speech of Saudi Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman at the opening of the summit extensively addressed the foundations on which this new relationship was built and the objectives it sought to achieve. He spoke of the “ancient historical ties” between each nation and declared that the summit was an opportunity to tap into the potential of these connections. He underscored the shared resources and economic growth that have contributed to collective GDPs of nearly $2.3 trillion, emphasizing the need for collective cooperation in all fields.

The leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council and Central Asian countries subsequently echoed these objectives and goals in their own remarks. In an interview with an Asharq Al-Awsat reporter, Tajikistan’s Foreign Minister Sirojiddin Muhriddin remarked that the ever-shifting geopolitical landscape and the diplomatic and economic evolutions of the region and the world necessitate a new approach to collaboration between the two regions.

As readers of Arab and Islamic history, we recognize many names, symbols, and countries stemming from the Central Asian tradition known of old as “The Land Beyond the River.” It was there that Islam first spread with the advent of Qutayba Ibn Muslim. These nations still enjoy prominence today as important Muslim members of the United Nations and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

The region’s significant contributions to Islamic thought can be attributed to its esteemed figures, which include generations of scholars, jurists, hadith specialists, and philosophers spanning Islamic history. More than seven years ago, I wrote an article titled “The Kurds and the Central Asian Countries,” in which I highlighted the importance of Central Asian countries for regional and international prosperity.

With their strong presence on the borders of southern Russia and Western China, these Central Asian countries could have a great effect on the emerging balance of power in the new world. Unlike the two-pole theory suggested by Henry Kissinger, or the one-pole theory promoted by Zbigniew Brzezinski, the Central Asian countries have an important part to play in this ever-changing geopolitical environment.

In a recent article, the foreign minister of Tajikistan discussed the geopolitical importance of Central Asia. The article highlighted that Central Asia could present a momentous change in geopolitics and provide a framework to develop stronger, mutually beneficial relations between South America and East Asian countries.

Regarding location, status, and influence, he wrote: “This Gulf-Central Asian Summit is the first of its kind and, after months of extensive preparation, it has indeed turned a new page in history for the relation between the two regions, their countries, and their peoples. As affirmed by the summit’s leaders, it offers immense opportunities in the present and future, drawing upon our deep-rooted common heritage that is steeped in history and ancient culture.”

The opportunities it presents are manifold. A Gulf-Central Asian Summit could serve as a model for leaders to use vision, decision-making, and partnership to improve the world’s political and economic success, security, and stability on both regional and global scales. Its outcomes would be significant.

Finally, Saudi Arabia, alongside the Gulf states, is blazing a trail for true stability on the global stage. Riyadh’s agreement with Iran and its newly established ties with Turkey have reaffirmed that, by aligning visions and magnifying shared interests and development goals, much can be accomplished for opposing parties, demonstrating that conflict does not have to be the only means of confronting modern issues. – Abdulah Bin Bijad Al Otaibi 

The Gulf’s climate crisis

Al-Ittihad, United Arab Emirates, July 23

Numerous studies have shown that extreme heat waves could have a profound effect on the climate in the Gulf countries, potentially rendering them uninhabitable by 2070. Prominent experts from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Profs. Jeremy Pal and Elfatih Eltahir, have warned that unless a notable reduction in carbon emissions is secured, the region could experience considerable daily increases in temperature.

Furthermore, they emphasized that climate change could significantly impair habitability in this usually scorching region in the future. The “urban heat island effect” has been a major contributor to the alarming temperature increases observed in the Gulf region, resulting in an accelerated trajectory of global warming, and placing the population at risk of various illnesses. This is caused by the expansion of cities, which sees vast green spaces swapped out for concrete and asphalt roofs that absorb heat and create microclimates with significantly higher temperatures compared to the rural areas in the vicinity.

The sweltering heat of summer can lead to serious health problems, from heat exhaustion and heat stroke to organ failure. In addition, the elevated temperatures associated with warm weather increase the risk of respiratory-related issues caused by extreme air pollution and ozone formation, as well as cardiovascular problems resulting from heat stress. Vulnerable populations – including the elderly, young children, and pregnant women, as well as those with preexisting health conditions – face the greatest risks of climate change.

Effectively responding to this challenge necessitates the implementation of major strategies to transition to renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Gulf countries are experiencing alarming increases in global warming, with dire repercussions for the environment and public health alike. We must intensify sustainable urban planning that focuses on green infrastructure and eco-friendly building materials to mitigate the effects of urban heat islands.

Further, the public needs to become aware of the health risks of global warming, and health systems need to be strengthened to be able to adapt to climate changes and properly manage climate-related health challenges.

Urgent action is needed to address climate change. It is essential that the necessary steps are taken to ensure the vitality of the region and the well-being of its people. The United Arab Emirates is making strides in environmental and climate protection, and it will certainly bring these topics to the fore at COP28. – Najat Alsaied

Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb.