Voices from the Arab Press: Egypt and Qatar - Looks can be deceiving

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

POPE FRANCIS meets with poetess and Holocaust survivor Edith Bruck in Rome on February 20. (photo credit: VATICAN MEDIA/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
POPE FRANCIS meets with poetess and Holocaust survivor Edith Bruck in Rome on February 20.
Al-Etihad, UAE, March 7
There is nothing wrong with us, in the Arab world, to admit that the Holocaust of the Jewish people in the first half of the 20th century was one of the darkest and most appalling times humanity has ever faced. There is also nothing wrong with us remembering that, at the time when Jews were sent to concentration camps in Europe, Jews living in the Arab world flourished and thrived in their societies, and lived on equal footing with their fellow Muslim and Christian citizens. It therefore comes as no surprise that many of them reached positions of power and influence, such as government ministries or prominent roles in the arts and theater. Human brotherhood was a true part of their lives.
So, what made me evoke the tragic events with which I opened this article? A few weeks ago, Pope Francis emerged from the Vatican compound and visited the home of Hungarian-born Hebrew poet Edith Brock, who survived the Nazi Holocaust. Brock had been imprisoned in a concentration camp as a child. She lost her parents and her brother there. Pope Francis’ visit was an attempt to express our shared humanity. This was the pope’s first visit outside the borders of Vatican City since his last trip to the Cross of San Marcello and the Great Church of Saint Mary. He wanted to express his humanity to a widowed woman, a survivor of the horrors of the Holocaust, who has been living alone behind closed door since the outbreak of the pandemic.
Pope Francis spent an hour with Brock, hoping to ease her loneliness and make her feel listened to and thought of. Their differences in religion did not matter. In the first moments of the meeting, Francis told Brock that he had come to thank her for her testimony, in which she spoke about the horrors of the Nazi hatred. The visit took Brock by surprise. She remarked, “We are never ready for the most beautiful moments of our life, nor are we prepared for the worst moments, either.”
Pope Francis concluded the meeting by remarking that we are all brothers, even if this fact is sometimes forgotten.
– Ameel Amin
Al-Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 6
Switzerland’s success story is unparalleled. The country has some of the most disciplined, productive and polite citizens. The Swiss government is among the most transparent governments in the world. Switzerland also boasts a highly competitive economy and some of the leading scientific institutions in the world.
As for the quality of life and happiness index of its people, Switzerland consistently ranks in the top bracket, together with Scandinavian countries. But Switzerland’s path to success was not always clear. After all, the Swiss people speak three languages (French, German and Italian); they follow different religious denominations (Protestant and Catholic), and have very few natural resources. Most of the country’s land is divided because of the giant Alps. Furthermore, Switzerland has fought several civil wars, the most recent one of which took place in 1847, when the situation was so bad that Germany, Austria and France made plans to divide the country’s territory among themselves.
So where did all this success come from? Much of it can be ascribed to Gen. Guillaume Henri Dufour, a talented Swiss commander who urged his countrymen to lay their weapons down and work toward peace. Dufour urged the Swiss people to rally around their flag and come together as one people. This acclaimed leader was able to end the war through negotiations that lasted 26 days. He provided care for wounded enemy soldiers and amnesty for the rebels, which impressed them and pushed them to reunify Switzerland.
The writer Michael Porter says that Switzerland was a poor country in the 19th century, and its most important export was immigrants. At the beginning of the 20th century, thanks to its leadership, it emerged as an industrialized state that was largely able to avoid the two world wars and their devastating impact. When we compare what Switzerland was in the 19th century and what some Arab countries are going through today – including Lebanon, Yemen, Libya, Syria and Iraq – we find that these countries are in a better position to become successful states that experience growth and high quality of life, provided that they are led by a wise and conscious leadership. This leadership must believe that the homeland is above all other considerations, whether sectarian, partisan or familial.
Some may argue that the comparison is unfair and that the reason for Switzerland’s progress is its presence in Europe. But take another example of Rwanda, one of the poorest countries in Africa. Some 25 years ago, it was subjected to a war of extermination that killed about 800,000 people, most of them from the Tutsi tribe. Today it is considered one of the most developed African countries in terms of stability and growth. This change came under the leadership of President Paul Kagame, who united the people on the basis of their national identity rather than their sectarian loyalties.
Leadership is what makes the difference. If we look at the countries that have suffered from backwardness and civil wars, we find that they all suffered from incompetent leaders who spread corruption and silenced all opposition, bringing about poverty and disintegration, accompanied by devastating civil wars. Some Arab countries are going through difficult and unstable situations. All that is needed by these countries is a courageous, strong and sincere leadership that eliminates sectarianism and ends foreign interference. When Arab leaders choose to do so, maybe we’ll see a Switzerland emerge in the Middle East.
– Abdullah Al-Saadoun
Al-Masry Al-Youm, Egypt, March 5
Last week, the front page of this very newspaper featured a photo of Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry with his Qatari counterpart, Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani.
Taken on the sidelines of a meeting of Arab states held in Cairo, the photo depicted the two men – neither one smiling – accompanied by the headline: “Egypt and Qatar restore relations after a five-year deadlock.” However, one couldn’t help but notice the stark contrast between the celebratory headline and the two men’s frowning faces. It is customary diplomatic protocol to put on a smile when meeting with foreign dignitaries, let alone when posing for a journalistic photo. But the two ministers refrained from this gesture.
Why? This was the ministers’ first meeting since the signing of the Al-Ula statement in Saudi Arabia on January 5, which paved the way for Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to restore their ties with Qatar. The Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Siyasa even quoted Minister al-Thani just hours before the summit, claiming that his country is seeking to restore Egyptian-Qatari relations with “warmth.” For my part, I can only guess that the reason behind the overly-serious photo is that Cairo is still waiting for Qatar to prove that it can stand behind its promises.
Following the 41st Summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council held in January in the Saudi town of Al-Ula, leaders of GCC member states signed a mutual statement affirming their willingness to achieve unity. But the strained relations between Egypt and Qatar cannot be restored overnight. It is more likely that between the signing of the declaration on January 5 and today, Cairo has been carefully observing Doha’s behavior in an attempt to test whether the words that appeared in the declaration have been met with corresponding moves on the ground aimed at establishing warm and durable relations between the two nations.
Notably, Qatar’s state-sponsored media outlets still have a lot of work to do on their coverage of Egypt, which has been vitriolic and venomous over the course of the past few years. Once Egypt sees a real change in Qatar’s behavior, diplomatic gestures will follow.
– Sliman Jawda
Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb.