Voices from the Arab press: Gulf States and the Palestinian cause

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

A SAUDI woman works as a cashier at a coffee shop in Abha, Saudi Arabia, on July 18 (photo credit: AHMED YOSRI/ REUTERS)
A SAUDI woman works as a cashier at a coffee shop in Abha, Saudi Arabia, on July 18
(photo credit: AHMED YOSRI/ REUTERS)
Al-Masry Al-Youm, Egypt, August 20
The Gulf states were, and are, for the most part genuinely supportive of the Palestinian cause. For years, they provided the Palestinian leadership with generous financial support and diplomatic assistance. Indeed, the Palestinian issue is a core issue in the conscience of residents of the Arab Gulf. Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the UAE’s founding father, was well aware of this reality and chose to keep the Palestinian issue close to his heart.
However, after his death, many conditions changed in the region. The Arab Spring marked the collapse of several regimes and the rise of new ones, while Iran’s aggression in the region continued to spread and intensify. To make matters worse, the Palestinian people experienced an internal rift that led to their de facto separation into two states: one in the West Bank and another in the Gaza Strip. This gave room for Iran to expand its influence over Hamas in Gaza, much like it did with Hezbollah in Lebanon.
So what should we make of the recent agreement between the UAE and Israel, brokered by the United States?
Allow me to begin by saying that I’m not among the people who believe that talking to the Israelis and negotiating with them is a crime. In fact, the only way to deal with a conflict is to talk to your enemy. And history has taught us that harsh and painful negotiations are better than a bloody war. For years, we, in the Arab world, tried to pursue strategies of boycott against Israel. But they failed. Now the UAE has opened the page for dealing with Israel through negotiations. I, for one, prefer a known devil over an unknown angel. I’d rather see the relations and communications between the two countries be carried out openly than under the table.
Therefore, the Israeli-Emirati agreement is a huge step for the Palestinian people. It will reshape the way in which the Arab world approaches the Palestinian cause and pave the way toward a new strategy that may be more beneficial than approaches we’ve tried before.
I am sure that Gulf leaders, including in the UAE, have not relinquished their support for the Palestinian people. They are still defending their inalienable rights and protecting their interests against anyone who tries to undermine them. Arabism and Arab solidarity are indivisible. And defending the Palestinian cause through direct negotiations with Israel, in broad daylight, is a thousand times better than doing so secretly, behind closed doors.
– Moustafa Elfeki
Al Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, August 21
As a young girl, Amal al-Awami knew that she wanted to become a physician. Despite being told that she wasn’t fit for the job, she continued to fight for her dream. She eventually became an ophthalmologist. Despite growing up in a traditional community, Fatima al-Sayed Hassan al-Awami and her cousin Amal al-Sayed Ali al-Awami were among the first three Saudi engineers working for Saudi Aramco in the early 1980s. The two women did not let men dictate their careers, even when they were told, time and again, that engineering is a discipline reserved strictly for men.
Thankfully, this legacy continues to this very day among most circles of Saudi society. More and more young women are choosing to pursue careers in science and technology while celebrating their achievements as well as those of other women. But there is still work to be done.
Yasmeen AlFaraj is a Saudi scholar who was sent by the King Abdullah University to study in the United States, at the University of California, Berkeley, one of the most prestigious universities in the world. A passion for science led AlFaraj to graduate with distinction and get accepted to a doctoral program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. MIT offered AlFaraj a spot to complete her doctorate in chemistry with a specialization in polymers and soft materials without the need to first obtain a master’s degree. This is because her academic achievements were so exceptional, and because the university provides only a combined master’s and doctoral-level program.
Despite rejoicing in her achievement, AlFaraj faced a bureaucratic nightmare with the Saudi Education Ministry, which refused to provide her with a much-needed scholarship due to the fact that she had only a bachelor’s degree. Ironically, at the exact same time that Saudi women are finally being empowered, in accordance with Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, many of the rigid old structures disadvantaging women continue to plague our society. So instead of receiving the help she needed, AlFaraj was turned away from the ministry by a disgruntled bureaucrat who had no appreciation for her incredible talent. The man had no idea of what it means to be accepted to the University of California, Berkeley, or to a doctoral program at MIT. Instead of being supportive and encouraging the young woman to chase her dreams, he followed a rigid protocol.
If Saudi Arabia is truly serious about becoming an innovative society that stands at the forefront of technological innovation, it must embrace not only its sons but also its daughters. Archaic government programs and protocols place an obstacle not only in front of AlFaraj but in front of all talented, ambitious, and gifted Saudi women who are exceptional in their respective fields, yet fall short of being recognized or supported by their society.
– Hassan al-Mustafa
Al-Ittihad, UAE, August 22
The mission to end the Libyan crisis does not require the appointment of a new UN envoy to Libya, who will be the seventh to assume this title since 2011. Things will not change overnight simply because a new liaison is appointed. Indeed, it is highly unlikely, if not outright impossible, that a new envoy would succeed in doing what six others before him failed to do.
Following the resignation of the most recent envoy, Ghassan Salame, from the post in early March, the position of UN Libya envoy has remained vacant. The five permanent members of the UN Security Council could not agree on the identity of Salame’s successor, especially since the United States demanded to split the role into two separate portfolios.
Unfortunately, UN Secretary-General António Guterres thinks that envoys can just be deployed without any institutional support. However, no UN envoy can achieve progress in conflict resolution without adequate support from the United Nations Secretariat. Such support cannot be provided without the clear vision of the secretary-general. In the absence of such a vision, it is impossible to develop a plan on the basis of which, and in the light of which, the envoy can act.
In most cases the existence of such a vision requires courage. The secretary-general and his assistants in the UN Secretariat must confront countries about their role in prolonging a given conflict and demand action on their behalf. It is no secret that there are several major countries that are directly involved in the Libyan war. Despite this, the UN Secretariat turns a blind eye to this behavior. Instead of leveraging its power to promote a peace deal in the country, the UN is allowing an illegal regime to continue ruling Libya with the help and support of foreign mercenaries who have been imported to the country from afar.
The United Nations Secretariat is a body with extensive power and substantial leverage over member states. However, the ability to exercise this power depends on the secretary-general and his readiness to take bold actions. Dag Hammarskjöld (1953-1961) and Boutros Boutros-Ghali (1992-1996) were two secretaries-general who weren’t afraid to make a difference. The current one, Guterres, is quickly running out of time to live up to their legacy.
– Wahid Abdul Majeed
Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb.