Voices from the Arab press: Morocco joins the normalization train

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

A menorah is seen inside the house of Davide Toledano, a businessman who heads Rabat's small Jewish community in Morocco, December 11, 2020 (photo credit: REUTERS/SHEREEN TALAAT)
A menorah is seen inside the house of Davide Toledano, a businessman who heads Rabat's small Jewish community in Morocco, December 11, 2020
Al-Khaleej Online, UAE, December 10
Less than three months after the UAE and Bahrain signed a normalization agreement with Israel, and more than a month after Abu Dhabi opened a consulate in the disputed Sahara region, Rabat has moved on the path of normalization with Tel Aviv.
Last week, US President Donald Trump announced the agreement – the fourth of its kind in four months – to normalize ties between Morocco and Israel and establish full diplomatic relations between the two capitals. Trump also announced Washington’s recognition of the Western Sahara region as “part of Morocco.”
It should be noted that this agreement may very well have been made possible thanks to secret Emirati efforts behind the scenes, after Abu Dhabi opened a consulate in Western Sahara and attempted to persuade the King of Morocco that the path to international recognition of the Sahara region passes through Tel Aviv. Indeed, a statement issued by both parties on October 28 indicated that the consulate will be located in El-Ayoun, the largest city in Western Sahara, and that the decision came after a phone call between Moroccan King Mohammed VI and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
Despite the confirmation of Morocco’s joining the normalization train that targets several Arab and Gulf stations under American auspices and with Emirati support, the popular position on this step may push the country toward unrest whose extent is unknown. Despite the fact that normalization of ties with Israel has become a growing phenomenon in the Arab world, it still remains to be seen how the Moroccan public will react to this decision. This is especially important since the question of Palestine is no less important to Moroccans than the question of the Sahara, according to several experts.
This fact can be glimpsed in the Moroccan street’s stance toward Emirati normalization, which was radically different from the official position that preferred silence and did not express a clear position on the Emirati move. Following the UAE’s announcement of establishment of ties with Israel, Prime Minister Saad Eddine El Othmani rejected the agreement and described Israel as “the Zionist entity.” However, many Moroccans spoke out against the prime minister and emphasized that all foreign policy decisions are made by the king alone.
Morocco’s relationship with Jews in general, and Israel in particular, is historical. Jews were part of the Moroccan royal decision-making circles and played major roles in foreign policy. In addition, the Moroccan ruling elite – consisting of royals, landowners, tribal leaders, senior military personnel and security chiefs – has maintained rather overt ties with Israeli officials over recent years.
According to Dr. Idris Attia, a professor on the faculty of political science and international relations at the University of Algiers, the UAE is convincing Arab and Gulf states that getting closer to Israel guarantees them some political and economic services or interests, while the reality is that the Israelis only seek to contain the region and destroy it internally. The Algerian analyst believes that the countries that normalized with Israel lack a healthy democracy, and made these decisions out of factional interests, not out of protection of national or Pan-Arab interests. Idris maintained, “It would have been more appropriate for the Emirates to spend their resources on the Arab world, the Gulf region, and in Africa” in order to develop the Arab world’s relations with key African states, instead of pursuing narrow private interests. – Ashraf Kamal
Al-Jazirah, Saudi Arabia, December 12
I previously wrote about the need to form a national repository that would contain the founding documents of the kingdom, including the correspondences, orders and documents issued by our founding father King Abdulaziz, may God have mercy on him. As far as I know, most of these documents have been either preserved at the royal archives or made their way into the hands of various academics and intellectuals who collected them and inherited them to their children. The late Sheikh Abdul Rahman bin Abdulaziz, a well-known writer and historian, told me that he held on to some of these documents, which surely exist with his children today.
These documents are nothing short of a national treasure that describes the founding story of our country and the great efforts made by the men who built it. These are rich raw materials for those who want to study the real history of the kingdom and understand the great challenges and the insurmountable obstacles that faced our great king. I feel confident saying that, after studying some of these documents, the real story of King Abdulaziz still has not been told or written. Unfortunately, most of these documents are still scattered around the world. The first step to preserving our history is to publish a comprehensive and declassified repository that houses these writings.
Fortunately, until his death, King Abdulaziz used to dictate his orders and instructions to his aides, who wrote them down exactly as he delivered them. He also maintained detailed handwritten notes of his plans and vision. There is also a trove of documents in the British National Archives, as well as in France and in the United States, pertaining to the founding of Saudi Arabia. It should be noted that the Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al Saud Foundation began some of the collection work and appointed the well-known anthropologist Saad Al-Soyyan to oversee the document restoration process. However, there is still much more work to be completed on our way to achieving this great historical mission.
If we neglect this history and do not take care of these documents, others might take advantage of them for commercial reasons or, worse, make use of them for malicious purposes. And because we live in an age of social media, the easiest way to share this wide breadth of knowledge is to make it available online — especially to younger generations of Saudis who are unfamiliar with the founding story of their kingdom. Moreover, we can make these resources available to media professionals to extract pictures, events, and stories and incorporate them into cinematic documentary films.
Therefore, I raise the hope that our crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, will commission historians and anthropologists to carry out this great historical and intellectual work. I am confident that our ambitious prince will give this project the attention it deserves and make it accessible to every loyal patriot of this kingdom. – Muhammad Al-Sheikh
Al-Masry Al-Youm, Egypt, December 12
As the world prepares for a new American president to step into office, many questions have arisen about the possible policies and paths this new administration might pursue. In Egypt, Biden’s victory in the election was met with contradictory reactions. On the one hand, this victory was greeted with extreme suspicion by those who fear that the Biden administration would follow a similar path to that of Barack Obama, and strengthen — or, at the very least turn a blind eye to — the Muslim Brotherhood. During the Obama and Biden years, many voices in Washington DC called to engage in direct dialogues with the Brotherhood and viewed it as a possible alternative to the existing government, a sentiment that was reflected in the actions of Obama’s team.
On the other hand, others thought of Biden’s victory as a cause for celebration. Namely, because it marks the end of the Trump era, in which the United States promoted authoritarianism around the world. To this camp, the change in presidents symbolizes the hope that the international system will once again respect democracy, sovereignty and the rule of law. However, the truth is never black and white, and the fact of the matter is that there is room for a more nuanced political conversation about this change in administration. Biden’s ascendance into office raises three important issues for Egypt. The first pertains to national security and the border dispute with Libya. What will be the Biden administration’s stance on this issue? How will the new president address this conflict?
The second issue concerns the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam and the handling of Egypt’s water rights. We know that the Trump administration seriously pressured the Ethiopian government into making concessions to Egypt, especially since the former was known for its extreme intransigence. But how will Biden view this dispute? Will he be supportive of Egypt’s right to the Nile water or not? Finally, there is the issue of economic and military aid to Egypt. We know that some economic aid to Egypt has been frozen due to congressional pressure during the Trump and Obama administrations.
But what will happen under Biden? Will his administration respect the military commitment to Egypt, as previous American administrations have done, or will something change? All of these issues remain open questions. We hope that the answers to them will be made clear in the coming weeks and months and will satisfy us and our national interests. – Nadine Abdullah
Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, London, December 12
Every four years, educators and policymakers around the world await the results of the international comparative assessments of student achievements in mathematics and sciences, published by Boston College and Time Magazine, to find out which nation is considered the world’s smartest. It is not surprising that, as was the case in previous years, we see the Asian Tigers surpass everyone else in these rankings — leaving behind Europe and America.
At the top of this list is Singapore, which has become the world’s exemplar for a creative educational system, followed by Hong Kong, Korea, China and Japan. Notably, these are also the countries that have dealt with the coronavirus pandemic in the most effective way, suggesting that there is a direct link between math and science skills and the ability to solve complex problems. This year, 62 countries and 600,000 students participated in the assessment, designed for fourth and eighth grade students. The results came as a shock to some, including the French, who came out at the bottom of the European ranking.
Still, some other countries were pleased, including Gulf states and Jordan which advanced slightly from last year. However, all Arab countries are still found at the very bottom of the ranking and will need to invest immense resources in order to rise to the top. It should be noted that, this year, Russia ranked directly after Japan, penetrating the top tier of states for the first time. Britain was also able to improve its ranking, after it revamped its mathematics curriculum and sent teachers and leading pedagogical experts to Shanghai to observe the Chinese model. It subsequently jumped from the 26th place in the world to ninth place in record time.
As for the US, which quickly understood the weakness of its students and their failure to keep pace with America’s economic status and its position as a financial capital of the world, some of its institutions have turned to Singapore to mimic the system that mixes theoretical mathematics with practical applications. Like Britain, the US has made progress but remains behind, ranking 14th in mathematics. Granted, these tests are not free of error, and their results must always be taken with a grain of salt. However, states should use these metrics to welcome feedback, analyze it, identify shortcomings and devise plans for improvement.
As for the Arab world, the problem seems to be a complete separation of abstract mathematical concepts from their real-world applications. When terms taught in class are detached from the context in which they unfold in the real world, they become boring and dull. People with a mind trained in logic at a young age can use these same skills and tools in later years to solve problems completely unrelated to math. We therefore have no choice but to reinvent our model. We tried a different approach and it failed. This is the only way to put our younger generations on a path to success in an increasingly competitive world. – Sawsan Al-Abtah
Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb.