Voices from the Arab press: From 'Barbie' to Neymar

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

 BARBIE WORLD: The first screening of ‘Barbie’ at VOX Cinemas in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Aug. 10.  (photo credit: Ahmed Yosri/Reuters)
BARBIE WORLD: The first screening of ‘Barbie’ at VOX Cinemas in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Aug. 10.
(photo credit: Ahmed Yosri/Reuters)

No more perfect scores on baccalaureate exams

Al-Ahram, Egypt, August 17

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A few weeks ago, the Education Ministry announced the results of the high school baccalaureate exams with overwhelming joy. To the surprise of many, for the third year in a row, not a single graduate obtained a perfect score of 100% on the exams. Though the highest score attained this year was 99.8%, it is a welcome change that the full mark is no longer considered achievable.

Prior to this, it was not uncommon for Egyptian students to achieve a perfect score of 100% by taking on extra subjects or getting help from their school. Such practices had drawn the ire of some, as they did not put Egypt in a prestigious scientific position, but instead painted it as a country where most students are lagging compared to the few “geniuses” who could get a perfect score.

The announcement of this year’s results signals the end of this absurd practice, providing a much-needed boost to our students.

It is clear that the current state of education in many countries, including Egypt, is far from ideal. All high school graduates should have the right to choose the type of future they want and find the university and specialization that best fits with their ambitions. – Abdel-Moneim Said

From Barbie to Neymar

Asharq al-Awsat, London, August 18

At a time when many Arab countries were banning the movie Barbie, Saudi Arabia was one of the first to allow its screening. Consequently, moviegoers from these countries began traveling to Saudi Arabian cities to watch the now-global phenomenon.

 EGYPTIAN HIGH school students line up for final exams in Cairo. (credit: Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters)
EGYPTIAN HIGH school students line up for final exams in Cairo. (credit: Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters)

In a stark reversal, what once was prohibited in Saudi Arabia has now become a destination for those seeking refuge from the oppressive regulations in their homeland.

A viral video circulating on social media even depicted a Saudi girl driving her car, wearing a pink abaya, off to the movies while documenting her entire journey and joyously celebrating her newfound freedom.

Just a few years ago, activities such as driving, watching films, and partying were completely off-limits, but thanks to the ambition demonstrated by the Saudi leadership, radical reforms have taken place.

In one of my recent op-eds, I discussed how the deal to bring Brazilian soccer star Neymar to the Saudi Pro League is part of the kingdom’s long-term plan to establish a powerful team that ranks among the world’s best and attracts tourists to the country. While the oil-rich nation has gone through a significant image transformation in recent years, Neymar’s influence can only help push those strides further. Saudi Arabia invites the world to investigate and experience the country for itself.

A few days ago in Jeddah, the kingdom held a conference uniting hundreds of religious figures. Islamic Affairs Minister Abdullatif bin Abdulaziz al-Sheikh proclaimed: “Moderate Islam will conquer extremism, ensuring it ceases to exist for good.”

These optimistic developments in culture, arts, entertainment, sports, and quality of life are already being felt far and wide throughout Saudi Arabia. Across the region, hate speech is waning and the vision of peace is growing stronger. We can create a glorious future through pragmatic and constructive thinking. – Mamdouh AlMuhaini

The new generation of Bedouin

Okaz, Saudi Arabia, August 17

The battles of al-Qadisiyah and the Yarmouk are often considered to be the first appearance of the “Bedouin nation” in the ancient East. For five thousand years, this nation has been isolated within the Arabian Peninsula, unable to access the rich resources of the Levant. Yet they have come to dominate the energy and money markets to this day.

The Bedouin’s first battle was with the Persians, and the second with the Romans – a testament to their strength and resilience.

The Persians intentionally invaded the Arabian Peninsula long before the advent of Islam, in an effort to isolate its people. King Shapur II led a campaign in 325 CE, targeting the eastern and northern regions of the peninsula to limit the residents’ access to Iraq, which was already controlled by the Sassanids.

Around the same time, Abyssinian King Abraha al-Ashram set out to attack Mecca in a bid to crush the growing religious authority in the area.

The Bedouin, who had humble beginnings but grew in power after their victories in Yarmouk and al-Qadisiyah, had an advanced civilization greater than that of Persia and Rome. Sadly, the glory of this civilization failed to percolate back to the Arabian Peninsula. The natives were no longer as willing to make a return journey, possibly due to transportation difficulties or other impediments.

For over 12 centuries, the same Bedouin descendants who liberated the Levant, Egypt, and Iraq from non-Arab populations have established powerful Umayyad, Abbasid, and Andalusian civilizations. Now, they have applied their knowledge and constructed a civilizational project on their own Arab island. The descendants of these Bedouin are the people today responsible for creating Aramco, projects like Neom [an innovative economic zone], Qiddiya [an entertainment megaproject], and The Line [a smart city], as well as their own electric cars and drones. They have developed a massive economy that is now among the 20 largest in the world.

King Abdulaziz, the young Bedouin who unified most of the Arabian Peninsula, was a monumental figure in the history of the Middle East. Mohammed Al-Thubaiti, a renowned Bedouin poet from the Hawazin tribe, revolutionized Arab literature with his modernist works. Mohammed Abdu, a singer from the mountains of Asir, captivated audiences with his incomparable voice. Similarly, Abdul Majeed Abdullah from Al-Qunfudhah moved the hearts of young men and women everywhere with his touching songs. Last but not least, the illustrious physician Dr. Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Rabeeah from Najd received international acclaim for successfully performing the separation of conjoined twins.

Saudi Arabia has achieved major strides in the international sphere thanks to honorable men and women. Moreover, two satellite television channels, Al Arabiya and MBC, have played an instrumental role in Arab media, both having been managed by Saudis for more than 30 years.

All of these individuals have served to strengthen the Saudi presence globally and bring positive recognition to the nation.

The Bedouin of Saudi Arabia hail from the deserts, mountains, and plains. They have urbanized or partially urbanized, but they have neither forgotten their origins of living in tents and mud houses, nor have they relinquished their love of dates and coffee. They set out to advance their knowledge and learning while striving for modernity.

Saudis and Bedouin have achieved impressive levels of modernization, without supplanting the efforts of others. Rather, they have forged a path unique to their own culture and identity.

This progress, however, has not been without adversity, as some have sought to impede their endeavors. Yet, propelled by ambition, Saudis and Bedouin have persevered and surpassed expectations. – Muhammad al-Saed

Hawaii fires: Climate and politics

Al-Ittihad, UAE, August 18

August is a month that many Americans associate with the holiday season, and one of the most sought-after locations to travel to is the Hawaiian Islands.

Boasting temperate weather year-round, majestic beaches, and natural scenery, as well as easily accessible air travel to and from virtually anywhere in North America or Asia, it’s no wonder that Hawaii continues to pique tourists’ interests.

On August 8, high winds associated with a distant typhoon caused electrical power lines to come down, believed to be the cause of the devastating fires that occurred specifically on the island of Maui. Due to extremely dry vegetation, the fire quickly spread throughout the island, making its containment difficult and leading to the destruction of the town of Lahaina. The ensuing destruction has been the worst of its kind to occur in the United States in the past century. To date, more than 100 fatalities have been reported, and this number is expected to climb. Nearly 3,000 houses have been destroyed, many owned by native Hawaiians for generations without mortgages or loans, which means they often have no homeowners insurance, leaving them with no means to recover their lost property or receive fair compensation.

The population is facing a newfound vulnerability following this disaster. With few options for refuge, there is widespread fear of targeted exploitation by real estate developers, who aim to buy out people’s title deeds to make way for luxury accommodations that will not be accessible to local residents. The debate around this issue is growing fervent.

There is no doubt that the devastation caused by the recent fires in Hawaii should serve as an urgent warning to every nation and society that is increasingly exposed to the weather-related disasters associated with global warming. Such disasters include powerful hurricanes and tropical storms, prolonged droughts that endanger crops and livestock, extreme rainfall leading to flooding, and abnormally hot summers and mild winters.

Weather-related disasters disproportionately affect low-income households. These families are typically situated in areas vulnerable to such catastrophes and have less ability to withstand them, making them dependent on aid from governments and charities alike. When hit, these households tend to experience a loss of home and source of income, leading to increased migration, a crisis felt acutely in more affluent countries like Europe and North America. This influx then fosters a xenophobic political backlash.

Most governments recognize the link between climate, migration, and political upheaval. Nevertheless, efforts to agree on a unified approach to address these growing crises have so far been unsuccessful.

In the United States, politicians from both sides of the aisle have been unable to find a bipartisan solution to immigration. The Republicans blame the Biden administration for the “chaos” at the border with Mexico, while the Democrats point to the lack of success of former president Donald Trump’s so-called wall, which supposedly had been “paid for by Mexico.”

Without policy reform, the only people truly benefiting are those profiting from human smuggling, who seem unlikely to cease their lucrative activity.  – Jeffrey Kemp

Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb.