Voices from the Arab press: Sit home and get paid

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

 US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud deliver remarks to reporters before meeting at the State Department in Washington, US, October 14, 2021. (photo credit: REUTERS/JONATHAN ERNST)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud deliver remarks to reporters before meeting at the State Department in Washington, US, October 14, 2021.
(photo credit: REUTERS/JONATHAN ERNST)

SIT HOME AND GET PAID! 

Al-Qabas, Kuwait, November 10 

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I will surely be attacked for the opinion I’m about to share in this column, but it is still my view nonetheless.

The Parliamentary Women and Family Committee recently approved a proposal to pay a monthly salary to Kuwaiti housewives who don’t work and have children – in order to allow them to take care of and raise their children.

Based on the plan, a housewife with a university degree will receive 750 dinars; one with a postbaccalaureate degree will receive 600 dinars; and one with a high school diploma will receive 500 dinars.

But my question is as follows: Who exactly will replace this cohort of working women who will now choose to stay home and take care of their children instead of working? And how will this shortage of labor be overcome: with Kuwaiti or foreign labor? Certainly, foreign workers will be needed to help out with this shortage, since the proposition for the average woman is very tempting: earn a paycheck even without going to work.

What’s even more concerning is that the plan doesn’t list a specific age group or unique set of circumstances. That is, any woman, at any age and life stage, is eligible for the benefit. Therefore, this program is, from the very outset, set up for exploitation and abuse. Just think of all of the women who will cash the government’s check each month, only to roam around from one coffee shop to another, to meet with their unemployed female counterparts.

Kuwait City, Kuwait (credit: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/MOHAMMAD ALATAR)Kuwait City, Kuwait (credit: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/MOHAMMAD ALATAR)

It’s unfortunate that the government is only starting to realize the severity of this proposal now, after concerns have been surfaced by worried citizens. The National Assembly demanded a quick review of the program, but it’s too little, too late.

Narrow electoral interests should not triumph over our collective interests as a nation. These plans must be studied and examined thoroughly before they’re implemented, and not after they’re announced. Otherwise, their financial impact is very hard to reverse. – Iqbal Al-Ahmad

SAUDI ARABIA BETWEEN THE TWO NOVEMBERS: 2020 & 2021 

Okaz, Saudi Arabia, November 11 

It’s hard to imagine, but the US presidential elections took place exactly a year ago. It was a fierce and divisive campaign in which Saudi Arabia found itself in the eye of the storm.

After stepping into office, President Joe Biden and his administration sent harsh messages to the world. Instead of dealing with Riyadh with a measure of responsibility and good faith, as is expected of allies, they preferred to distance themselves from Saudi Arabia.

But the Saudi government didn’t flinch. Instead, Saudi Arabia devoted its energy to making the best of the situation.

The Al-Ula Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Summit, which took place in January 2021, was the first sign that Riyadh was determined to change its geopolitical stance for the better.

The Al-Ula Declaration – signed by the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and the rest of the GCC member states, along with Egypt – paved the way for the reestablishment of political and economic ties with Qatar. Subsequently, Riyadh’s coordination with Kuwait grew deeper, its economic partnership with the UAE expanded, and its relations with Oman reached unprecedented heights.

The declaration became a bridge for Saudi Arabia into all parts of the Gulf and positioned Riyadh as a regional leader.

Meanwhile, falling oil prices began to recover, reaching their pre-pandemic levels. Those leading the oil industry in Saudi Arabia maintained a resolute and effective stance that forced the market to acquiesce to the wills of the kingdom.

Britain, one of Saudi Arabia’s oldest partners, has decided to double down on its commitments to the kingdom and step into the void left behind by the United States. Cairo and Islamabad have also grown their alliance with Riyadh, boosting the economies of all three countries.

At first glance, the month of November of last year heralded a startling political winter for Saudi Arabia. But quietly and patiently, Riyadh has managed to spread its warmth in the region and turn this year into a year of achievements. And today, Saudi Arabia may be in its best geopolitical position to date. – Mohammed Al-Saeed 

PREVENTING ETHIOPIA FROM RIPPING ITSELF APART 

Asharq al-Awsat, London, November 14 

Thousands of people have been killed, more than two million people have been internally displaced, and nearly one million people are at risk of starvation.

The conflict in Ethiopia began a year ago when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed launched a military campaign against the Tigray region, and the situation is quickly getting out of control.

The crisis has worsened since last June when Tigray fighters regained control of a large part of the Tigray region and crossed into neighboring areas after a daring military campaign. After a sudden stop, government forces tried last month to push them back into their original positions, but these fighters repelled the attack and, in a stunning turn of events, took control of strategically important towns on their way to the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

In response, the government declared a nationwide state of emergency, and Abiy urged civilians to take up arms, using the language of war and hostility. A massive crackdown has since been launched against the Tigrayan population in the capital and in other parts of the country, and 16 local United Nations staff members have been arrested. An atmosphere of chaos has gripped the city.

But a negotiated settlement, even peace, is still possible. With the help of the African Union and the United States, the two warring sides can pull the country out of disaster.

Few expected it to come this far, not least Abiy himself. When the prime minister ordered military attacks against Tigray in early November of last year, he said the campaign would be a brief surgical operation “with clear, limited and achievable objectives.”

Instead, the conflict dragged on for months, taking a heavy toll. Civilians are bearing the brunt of a brutal campaign that has seen ethnic cleansing, sexual violence, rape and mass murder. These atrocities, often perpetrated by the Ethiopian army, Eritrean forces and allied militias, have stunned society, inflamed divisions and deepened polarization.

Abiy was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019, and then became the target of international criticism after being condemned for his role in the conflict. Indeed, the elections in June, which were intended to polish his democratic credentials and solidify his rule, did nothing to improve the situation.

Then came a series of military setbacks, as the Tigrayan forces launched a major counteroffensive campaign and began coordinating with the Oromo Liberation Army. And last week, they and seven other opposition groups formed an alliance to replace Abiy’s government.

With Abiy’s military options dwindling and his legitimacy waning, his government has quietly signaled a willingness to negotiate.

Diplomats and leaders in the region responded quickly, doubling down on their efforts to secure a ceasefire and lay the groundwork for a negotiated political settlement. US Special Envoy to the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman met with Ethiopian and Kenyan authorities, and Olusegun Obasanjo, the high representative of the African Union in the Horn of Africa, held talks with Ethiopian authorities and the Tigray leadership.

But in the end, the future will depend on the Ethiopian parties themselves. There is currently deep concern about Abiy’s intentions, and many believe that he will simply use the ceasefire to buy time to regroup, arm and strengthen his forces. Moreover, Tigray and Oromo forces seem to believe that they can topple Abiy militarily and form a transitional government.

Yet all is not lost. Both sides may hope that they can achieve victory, without resorting to compromise, but the conditions are so dire that neither of them can afford to continue any further. The Abiy government has been widely discredited and no longer hopes to wait for its opponents to fall. As for the Tigray and Oromo leaderships, they risk losing popular support if the humanitarian crisis continues to spread.

It is a difficult task, but both sides have to put war aside for the sake of peace. The alternative is total destruction. 

– Awol Allo 

Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb.