Voices from the Arab press: Palestinian faction wars in Lebanon

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

 The House Subcommittee’s hearing on “UAP: Implications on National Security, Public Safety, and Government Transparency” took place on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC last month. (photo credit: Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)
The House Subcommittee’s hearing on “UAP: Implications on National Security, Public Safety, and Government Transparency” took place on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC last month.
(photo credit: Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

Palestinian faction wars in Lebanon

An-Nahar, Lebanon, August 4

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The clashes occurring in the Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp between the Fatah movement and a host of Islamic organizations, represent a disagreement that runs much deeper than a mere struggle for influence, or control of certain areas. Such strife has far-reaching implications which extend to the internal Palestinian dialogue that took place in Cairo, especially between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.

The assassination of a senior Fatah commander, Abu Ashraf al-Armoushi, sent shockwaves through the Fatah movement. According to senior officials in Lebanon, the clashes in the camp erupted after Palestinian Intelligence Chief Majed Faraj visited Beirut, where he met with high-ranking officials in government.

The Palestinian Authority is aiming to consolidate its control over the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, in an effort to foil Hamas’s attempts to overtake them. Clashes at the camp this time around differ from previous rounds, in that they do not seem to culminate in a cease-fire agreement.

Rather, they could pave the way to further violence, most notably the Fatah movement’s demise. This disorder not only disrupts the Palestinian political scene but also has ramifications for the Lebanese internal and external political situation. It may even revive the call to disarm the Palestinian factions, while the Lebanese army is drawn into battles in which it should remain uninvolved. Meanwhile, the arms kept outside the camp by smaller Islamic organizations are mobilized to further the strategy of consolidating the frontlines against Israel. 

It was alarming that the cease-fire in the camp was broken more than once, raising questions about the parties’ attempts to stoke the situation for their own benefit. The developments on the ground show that all Islamic organizations have teamed up against the Fatah movement, rendering it unable to make any advances.

 SISTERHOOD FOOTBALL Club, a Muslim women’s team with hijab-wearing members, plays on a soccer pitch in a central London, UK, park.  (credit: Hannah McKay/Reuters)
SISTERHOOD FOOTBALL Club, a Muslim women’s team with hijab-wearing members, plays on a soccer pitch in a central London, UK, park. (credit: Hannah McKay/Reuters)

Despite its inability to resolve the conflict militarily, Fatah made attempts to restrain Islamic forces to certain parts of the camp, responding with force to any attacks against them. If the Islamic forces, including extremist organizations, can weaken the Fatah movement, they will transform the camp into a breeding ground for ISIS, al-Qaida, and other extremist entities.

It is impossible to gauge precisely what the reality within Ain al-Hilweh camp will look like, so long as there is no shift in the balance of power within it, and unless the internal Palestinian developments at home manifest in the lives of the Palestinian refugees abroad.

However, it is clear that the external forces striking at the Fatah movement with the assassination of one of its leaders have inflicted a crippling blow, and further losses are to be expected, should the movement remain unable to make any meaningful progress. The atmosphere in Palestinian refugee camps has long been tense, made all the more so by intensifying internal disputes and external meddling.

Lebanon, as well as regional powers, appear to be trying to prevent any rapprochement between Palestinian factions. In order to do this, these forces are supporting organizations that have been sidelined in Palestinian reconciliation negotiations in order to have stronger control over the camps. This is seen as an attempt to hold back the Fatah movement, weaken Palestinian solidarity, and create a new political reality.

There are also groups who are trying to push the Palestinians and Lebanese into a conflict. It is an agenda that seeks to use the Lebanese army to fight a bogus battle of disarmament, exploiting the fact that the Lebanese forces benefit from a state of tension.

The Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon are poised to become a focal point of tension in the coming period, with the potential danger of extremist groups gaining control of the camps under regional support. This would place both Lebanese and Palestinian citizens at risk. – Ibrahim Haider 

Understanding America’s obsession with unidentified flying objects

Al-Ahram, Egypt, August 5

Since I arrived in the US to pursue my studies several decades ago, I have heard Americans speaking about UFOs with different levels of conviction. At first, my lack of knowledge of what these “rolling UFOs” were actually referring to made me timid. By the end of the 1970s, however, interest in UFOs had been sparked by blockbuster films such as Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Finally, I learned that the three letters – UFO – stand for “unidentified flying object.” The topic has become quite common, with the supposed appearance of creatures that were no more than murky light spots in blurry photos.

Recently, it was reported that it is possible that the appearance of these objects in the United States may actually reflect Chinese objects being tested for espionage, as happened with the balloons that China claimed “deviated from its airspace” until they reached American territory.

What raised the issue of UFOs again, this time in a serious manner, is the fact that the US Congress held a formal hearing on the matter. The House Oversight and Accountability Committee invited three former military officials who testified that they believe the US government knows much more about UFOs than it is telling the public.

One of the witnesses, a former US Air Force officer, revealed that nonhuman biological discoveries that were left behind by these objects have been retrieved by the US military. Witnesses from different backgrounds and professions have made similar statements.

What is baffling is that no other countries have reported similar findings. From my perspective, I cannot understand why these flying objects seemingly avoid most countries around the world, while only making an appearance in US territory. Similarly, if there is evidence that they exist, why are they being ignored? Are they an American myth or something other governments around the world are well aware of? – Abdel Monem Said 

Human rights in the sports field

Al-Watan, Egypt, August 5

On Thursday, June 29, 2023, the French Council of State denied the request of Muslim athletes to be allowed to compete in the hijab, as it went against Article 1 of the French Football Federation’s regulations that forbid any kind of clothing or slogans that identify religion. This decision has caused some Muslim athletes to relocate for professional opportunities abroad. 

On July 30, 2023, the Moroccan national football team competed against South Korea in the second round of Group H at the Women’s World Cup held in Australia and New Zealand. The match, held on the grounds of Hindmarsh Stadium in Australia, ended in Morocco’s favor with a score of 1-0. 

This comes roughly one month after the French Council of State ruling was issued. This match was a defining moment in women’s football: for the first time in history, a veiled player took the field, as Moroccan midfielder Nouhaila Benzina, 25, participated wearing a white hijab that matched the uniform of Morocco’s national team, which wore white.

Benzina, a professional player for the Sports Association of the Royal Armed Forces, almost scored a goal and showed her talent throughout the match, although her appearance in a veil was what made this moment so memorable. Benzina regularly wears a hijab in local competitions, and this match serves as a testament to her courage and ambition. 

Gianni Infantino, president of the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA), expressed his views on the historic moment of Benzina’s first appearance wearing a hijab in a Women’s World Cup match. Through his official Instagram account, Infantino declared that this was a demonstration of the “comprehensive, more tolerant, universal, and diverse” qualities of football with the hashtag “#NoDiscrimination.” 

For some time, FIFA did not allow headscarves in the world of football due to health and safety regulations. As such, when veiled Iranian athletes were barred from taking part in women’s football competitions at the London Olympics in 2012, controversy ensued. In response, FIFA received numerous requests from countries and players to modify the laws restricting veiled women from playing in international competitions in order to “further football’s development.” 

This plea was met with positive affirmations from FIFA. On March 1, 2014, FIFA unanimously approved a rule permitting female players to wear a hijab while competing. However, it wasn’t until the 2023 Women’s World Cup match between Morocco and South Korea that this new rule was seen in action. Nahila Ben Zina became the first woman to wear a full covering headpiece and dress. 

This momentous decision demonstrates the potential of sport in promoting equality on the international stage. But while FIFA regulations allow the wearing of the hijab, French law still bans it in sports competitions. 

The French Football Federation has the responsibility to safeguard the fundamental values of the French Republic. This entails taking actions that prevent discrimination on the basis of factors such as sex, sexual orientation, ethnic origin, nationality, geographic location, language, social status, physical appearance, and political or religious beliefs.

Furthermore, the Olympic charter guarantees that sports remain neutral in all places of practice. This matter has spurred debate on the possibility of a contradiction between French law and the rules adopted by FIFA. Specifically, the question has arisen whether French national laws, which generally allow the wearing of visible religious symbols in public, will clash with the regulations issued by some international sports federations. 

The matter requires attention, as Paris is set to host the 2024 Olympics, which will include women’s football events. Furthermore, it is likely that the French capital will host other women’s sporting events in the future. To ensure that this can happen without violating French law, it is necessary to maintain harmony and consistency between national and international laws and regulations. 

Any act of proselytization, propaganda, or disrespect will not be tolerated, and persons found in violation of such provisions will be subject to disciplinary and legal action as appropriate. Officials should ensure that these regulations are respected.

L’Équipe newspaper has raised the issue of the different positions taken by the French Republic and FIFA with regard to whether or not a veil should be allowed on the field. Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin has previously expressed his criticism of the idea, and while Sports Minister Amélie Oudéa-Castéra is open to a new law or amendments on the matter, Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne has declared to the National Assembly that the government is “fully mobilized to ensure respect for secularism in sports.” 

It is noteworthy that the French still remember the case of Lina Boussaha, a former player of Paris Saint-Germain, whose request to play while wearing the hijab was denied. This led her to transfer to Saudi Arabia’s Al Nassr Football Club. It is imperative that we take action in order to overcome this cycle of discrimination. – Ahmed Abd El-Zaher 

Disregarding millions of democratic votes

Maariv, Israel, August 6

I am deeply worried about the chaos that Supreme Court Justice Esther Hayut is causing. Her brazen decision to fuel the fire of controversy is evident and far-reaching. Her determination that all Supreme Court judges must participate in the hearing over the petition to annul the amendment to the recent basic law passed by the Knesset, appears to be a de facto declaration of war on the democratically elected government, and its implications are mysterious. 

The impending retirement of the justice has prompted her to seek to leave a legacy, even if it will create controversy for years to come. In my opinion, her behavior is clear and direct: she has made it plainly known how she views the necessary changes to the judicial system. This poses a blatant conflict of interest, one that no legal system should allow. 

A justice announcing how they will rule on a case before it has been heard is unfathomable. The sheer audacity of it is beyond description. Hayut is aware simply by discussing the issue could lead to widespread unrest. 

Unthinkable, then, is the possibility of what may happen following the judges’ decision on the matter brought before them. Instead of informing the petitioners on the unsuitability of the Supreme Court to debate the legality of a basic law passed by the Knesset, Hayut has established a “legal phalanx” of 15 justices. There is no other way for me to describe such a panel. 

Nine judges, headed by Chief Justice Hayut, unanimously decided to “amend” the so-called Tiberias Law, stating that the law will only come into effect following the upcoming local authority elections. Hayut requested that the discussion be broadcast to the public in real time, making it a revealing experience.

Although the respondents’ arguments were not warmly received by the judges, someone made a comment rather quickly, which made it clear that their opinion had already been independently formed. Furthermore, the legislator’s intention was not seen as binding on the judges. 

Recently, the Supreme Court invalidated a law that sought to incentivize foreign workers to return to their home countries upon the end of their employment in the country. It is clear that some seek to sow division rather than foster solidarity. 

Furthermore, there have been petitions calling for the repeal of an amendment to the basic law, which relates to the impeachment of a prime minister. Removing an incumbent prime minister in such a manner would certainly be a contested move. The absurdity of this situation is deeply concerning. 

It is unacceptable that millions of citizens’ votes at the ballot box could be disregarded and discarded. Such an affront to democracy is without comparison in the international arena. Logically, one would expect courts to show more intellectual rigor when approaching a decision of such magnitude; however, the failure to do so renders their deliberation highly questionable from the get-go. – Haim Misgav

India and the Myanmar crisis

Al-Ittihad, UAE, August 6

Since the military seized power in Myanmar from an elected government in 2021, the country has been thrown into civil war, in which thousands of people have lost their lives. Strict sanctions imposed on the military have thus far been unsuccessful in curbing the violence.

With the conflict now nearing its 30-month mark, it appears that the warring parties will continue to grapple through the second half of 2023. The armed forces have tremendous numerical and supply advantages, yet their efforts to contain the situation remain difficult due to the opposition’s growing strength.

The national unity government, formed by members of the former parliament in Myanmar in response to the coup, has been striving for the restoration of democracy, yet the rally is yet to be met with success. With no definitive victor likely to emerge in the near future, the country stands on the brink of further devastating bloodshed.

The violence in Myanmar has caused an influx of thousands of refugees into India, with more than 50,000 civilians streaming across the border from Myanmar’s Chin State and Sagaing region into India’s northeastern region. The military coup has resulted in acts of repression against the Kuki Chin tribes, motivating many of the Myanmar people to infiltrate the Indian states of Manipur and Mizoram in search of safety.

Faced with this situation, Mizoram, a state with a large population of people with close ethnic and cultural ties to the population on the other side of the border, has set up camps to provide refuge for more than 40,000 individuals. This decision by India has sparked a state of instability on the country’s borders, especially with regard to the actions of the military junta against the Kuki Chin tribes.

India consequently decided to register biometric data from individuals crossing the porous border between India and Myanmar. This move comes as a security measure, particularly in light of escalated violence in Myanmar. India’s strategy is to monitor cross-border movements and register potential refugees on this list to prevent them from claiming Indian citizenship. 

Efforts are underway to complete the fencing of India’s 1,643-kilometer border with Myanmar, with 10 kilometers already completed. This long, porous border has become an urgent security concern in light of recent developments in Manipur, a region with a turbulent past.

For years, various militant groups have been using the mountainous border with Myanmar as a safe haven for launching attacks on the Indian Armed Forces. Ethnic violence between the Meitei and Kuki tribes, which broke out more than two months ago, has resulted in 100 deaths and the displacement of over 650,000 people, proving to be a difficult challenge for India’s internal security. 

India needs to maintain peace and tranquility in Manipur in order to strengthen Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Act East policy. This policy seeks to bolster ties with Southeast Asian countries through business investments, trade enhancements, and improved transportation.

Furthermore, this region is known to witness the clandestine movement of firearms and drugs; a phenomenon that has further contributed to the turbulent circumstances in Myanmar. Consequently, India finds itself in a precarious situation, wherein it has allowed entry of refugees, but is refraining from interfering with politicians and the State Administration Council of Myanmar, a hands-off attitude that India has generally embraced since the 1990s. 

This has been done to ensure long-term stability near India’s borders, considering the fact that the rebels are entrenched in areas close to the Myanmar border and have been conducting raids.

India has long guarded against an unchecked Chinese presence in Myanmar, with cooperation between the two countries growing and diversifying from energy to defense over the past few years. Even as unrest plagued Myanmar this year following the military overthrow of the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, New Delhi continued to extend military aid to Myanmar, providing it with advanced armaments.

India has affirmed its commitment to peace in neighboring Myanmar numerous times and has supported the employment of an ASEAN special envoy in a mediation effort. However, the escalating strife in Myanmar is beginning to take a toll on its neighboring countries, Bangladesh included.

The Kutupalong and Nayapara refugee camps in the Bengali district of Cox’s Bazar are sheltering a staggering 919,000 Burmese refugees. A mass demonstration of Myanmar refugees in Bangladesh has arisen, demanding to be returned to their homeland.

Bangladesh is calling on international agencies to assist in repatriating the refugees but they remain apprehensive due to fears for their personal safety. With a national election only six months away, it remains to be seen how the situation will progress. – Zikru Al-Rahman 

Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb