Voices from the Arab press: Europe’s timid confrontation with terrorism

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

French special police take part in a drill inside Groupama Stadium near Lyon (photo credit: EMMANUEL FOUDROT/ REUTERS)
French special police take part in a drill inside Groupama Stadium near Lyon
Europe has adopted a state of defeat in the wake of the terrorism that has struck its cities. European leaders have agreed on everything but to confront the currents of violence and extremism that have swept the shores of their continent.
None of the world’s countries explicitly declares its support for terrorism. Rather, all countries declare their rejection of all forms of violence and extremism. Despite this fact, we know that some countries covertly support violence and extremism, while others turn a blind eye.
Then there are those countries for which confrontation of terrorism is a worthless political action. Herein lies the real disease. The international community has fallen short of proactively confronting terrorism, waiting, instead, until it became a problem. Violent groups exploited this, so what the world is witnessing right now – the reemergence of powerful terrorist groups across the western hemisphere – has less to do with the strength of these groups and more to do with the lax response by Western authorities.
Europe is still divided on this issue. European states have allowed extremist organizations to exist on their soil through Islamic centers and charitable societies that receive foreign support from unknown countries and questionable sources. Too many European capitals have allowed the flow of foreign funds into their jurisdictions without investigating the sources from which they come. The matter is not limited merely to charitable societies or Islamic centers, but has also been true of imams and preachers who work in these centers and promote radical ideas.
It is imperative for European states to stop the flow of foreign support for radical Islamic groups. Most of the terrorist operations that took place in Europe have been carried out by homegrown radicals who were incited in their respective mosques and drew inspiration from extremist propaganda they found on the Internet.
Furthermore, violent extremist groups benefit from the free movement of people and goods around the European continent. For many decades, the Muslim Brotherhood formed cells and secret societies throughout Europe, managing to slowly infiltrate the continent through various associations and places of worship.
The only way to confront terrorism in Europe is therefore to redefine the relationship between the state and these societies, and, by virtue of that, between the state and Islam. Europe must reevaluate the legal frameworks that govern how authorities can deal with this widespread terrorist infrastructure, including the deportation of foreign extremists who already have rights to permanent residence. The time has come for Europe to cease being shy of confronting its biggest historical threat.
– Mounir Adib
Al-Arabiya, Saudi Arabia, November 21
Many talk these days, often out of wishful thinking, about a major shift in Saudi-American relations during the term of President-elect Joe Biden, suggesting that relations between Washington and Riyadh will witness a deterioration, perhaps even worse than during the era of former president Barack Obama. They cite the fact that Biden worked under Obama and held beliefs that were similar to those of his former boss, to whom he’s still immensely close. They also remind us that several of the most prominent members of Obama’s administration – including notable Iranian experts who advised Obama on the Iranian issue – are likely to return to a Biden White House.
Despite these doomsday scenarios, I believe with confidence that the relations will remain largely unchanged. Surely, they won’t be as close as they were during the Trump era, for a wide host of reasons, including, for example, the fact that President Donald Trump’s first foreign visit after stepping into office was to Riyadh. Under Trump, the bilateral relationship flourished on all fronts, including economic, security and political coordination. However, if we take a step back and look at the bigger picture, we quickly understand that the historical relations between Riyadh and Washington have been based on common interests and shared values for more than seven decades. A Biden administration would not be an exception to this rule.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia isn’t a peripheral state. It has global economic and political weight, and it is the most prominent exporter of energy in the world. Spiritually and religiously, the kingdom holds monumental weight in the Muslim world. In addition, Riyadh has developed a unique model in combating terrorism by drying up terrorist groups’ intellectual and financial resources. It is also the largest international contributor to the United Nations counterterrorism program.
Furthermore, the US is aware of Saudi Arabia’s weight in terms of oil prices around the world, and we all remember the message of the American shale oil companies to Trump in which they requested that he speak to Saudi Arabia to work to raise oil prices, especially since the cost of extracting shale oil is many times the cost of extracting liquid oil. Accordingly, the impact of Saudi Arabia’s moves on the US domestic economy becomes clear.
Most importantly, the policies and changes that took place in the region over the course of the past few years, including developments in Arab-Israeli relations, will make it impossible to turn back the clock. Many regional issues that once seemed controversial are now crystal clear. Domestically, Riyadh has passed major reforms over the past five years, including on issues such as women’s rights, for which Democrats have been calling.
In sum, Riyadh has sufficient capacity to defend its interests and build good relations with the next US administration, as was the case with most previous administrations. Therefore, I do not expect a major shift in Saudi-American relations during the Biden era. A Biden administration is more likely to be busy dealing with internal issues, including the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the US economy.
Regarding Iran, the new administration might seek to reach a new nuclear agreement, but it will not be reached without input from Washington’s Gulf allies, especially Saudi Arabia, and Biden’s position on hostile Iranian behavior and Tehran’s missile program is strongly consistent with the Saudi position.
– Muhammad al-Silmi
Al Rai, Kuwait, November 21
Ironically, Walid al-Muallem, the Syrian foreign minister since 2006, died on November 16, 2020, the day marking the 50th anniversary of the 1970 “Corrective Revolution.” The revolution was carried out by Hafez Assad against his comrades and led to the rise of the Assad regime we know today.
The Corrective Revolution gave rise to a regime that, in order to survive, had to disintegrate Syria into tribes that could be divided and conquered. The Assad dynasty first relied on the help of the Iranians to do so, and then turned to the Russians. From barrel bombs to assassinations, chemical weapons and the mass displacement of citizens, the Assad regime has not shied from using violence to strengthen its power.
The truth is that Muallem, a Sunni Muslim who spent most of his life in the inner circles of Damascus, had no significant decision-making authority over the Alawite regime – neither during the Hafez Assad era nor the current Bashar Assad era. Like other Sunnis who rose to fame in Syria under the Assads, Muallem was simply a decorative tool used to polish the regime’s image by allowing it to deny that it was loyal only to Alawites, a sect of Shia Islam.
Muallem was among the few urban Sunnis who assumed prominent positions in government. Most other Sunnis in Syria remained powerful only within their own local circles, typically outside the large cities. Those who did rise to fame in places like Damascus were immediately jailed.
Muallem knew his limits, and learned them early on. After serving as Syria’s ambassador to Washington between 1990 and 1999, he was summoned back to Damascus due to a tip-off that he was growing “too close” to his American counterparts.
Since his return to Damascus, Muallem demonstrated his loyalty to the Assad family, while hiding his true feelings, which were similar to the feelings of every Syrian Sunni toward the regime. He understood what it meant to be a Sunni in the service of Bashar Assad’s regime, and before it, that of Hafez Assad. He knew that the Sunni should negotiate with Israel, while the Alawite should remain outside this circle. Therefore, the public negotiations with the Israelis were limited to people like Muallem.
Despite being the highest-ranked official in Syria’s security establishment, he was far from the strongest. The most powerful person has always been the Alawite, who serves as the backbone of the system, which above all else is a family system.
– Kheirallah Kheirallah
Al-Ittihad, UAE, November 21
In the past few days, China and 14 other countries – Australia, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam – signed an accord creating the largest free-trade bloc in the world. It is known as the Comprehensive Regional Economic Partnership Agreement. A third of the world’s economic activity takes place in the countries that have joined the bloc.
The signing ceremony took place on the sidelines of the annual summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which includes 10 countries.
India was a notable exception to signing the agreement, after expressing a series of concerns over the bloc. When negotiations over the agreement began in 2012, India was still involved. But New Delhi’s doubts and fears only strengthened after the spread of the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting obstacles to global supply chains due to countries imposing various closures and restrictions on their markets.
The decision to leave the negotiations was reached at the highest levels of power in India, for fear of opening the Indian market to Asian trading powers.
However, several other factors contributed to the decision. Among them was the trade deficit facing India. Twelve of the 15 signatories of the agreement refused to conduct research into the service sector, which includes the flow of workers and professionals throughout their territories. There were also concerns about country-of-origin rules and nontariff barriers. There was strong opposition from Indian trade groups and local companies in certain spheres, such as the dairy sector, which feared damage from the entry of foreign dairy manufacturers into the Indian market.
But the main reason was India’s fear of opening its markets to countries with which it has had a strong asymmetrical trade relationship. Indian industry feared that the tariff cut would cause Asian goods to flood Indian markets and exacerbate the country’s trade deficit.
Can India distance itself, if the world moves toward multilateralism with the change of power taking place in the US? Perhaps US President-elect Joe Biden can restore the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the proposed trade agreement between Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam and the US, which was canceled under President Donald Trump. If this is the case, India could find itself left out of both trade blocs.
Gulf states, too, will need to rethink their positions and make sure they aren’t left out. – Zikru al-Rahman
Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb.