Voices from the Arab Press: WILL AMERICA BE WEAKENED?

It seems as if the question of the day is the following: Will America be weakened by its withdrawal from Syria?

AMERICAN SOLDIERS stand near military trucks at al-Omar oil field in Deir Al Zor, Syria, on March 23.  (photo credit: REUTERS)
AMERICAN SOLDIERS stand near military trucks at al-Omar oil field in Deir Al Zor, Syria, on March 23.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Al-Arab, London, November 13
Turkey faced a new crisis last week, this time centered on spinach dishes in Istanbul, after more than 100 residents of the city were rushed to hospitals after eating contaminated spinach. The city authorities said the poisonings were caused by eating a plant that was confused with spinach, but the Islamic daily newspaper Qarar quoted opposition experts and politicians saying that the explanation did not make sense.
Whatever the real cause of these poisonings is, there is a good reason to view this event as a harbinger of other government cover-ups that are yet to be discovered. The spinach poisoning occurred days after a family of six was poisoned by eating food in the central city of Kayseri. This led to the death of their four-year-old daughter. That same week, 50 workers were evacuated from a factory in Istanbul’s Esenyurt District due to food poisoning. On November 3, the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation reported that 67 people were taken to hospitals due to food poisoning in the western city of Afyonkarahisar. Fifteen people were treated for food poisoning in the central Turkish city of Kirikkale on November 2, after eating meals at a restaurant. There are even reports of food poisoning of a large number of victims dating back to summer in the cities of Izmir, Safranbolu, Karabuk, Manisa and others. Similarly, 143 soldiers suffered food poisoning at once in Sakarya in September.
This is not a comprehensive list, but it shows an ongoing problem with food safety standards. In many of these cases, the culprits appear to be food suppliers, who distribute food to various workplaces. These reports signal an urgent need to implement tighter controls over public health matters. However, the absence of accountability among government agencies suggests that such cases will continue to occur, especially in a country where the media cooperate with the government to deny any government responsibility, for fear of harassment. The media play a big role in this.
On Wednesday, police in Istanbul discovered the bodies of four people between the ages of 40 and 60, believed to have been poisoned by cyanide. A warning sign was placed on the outside door of their house in Istanbul. It was reported that the individuals committed suicide. Neighbors reported that the four had financial problems and couldn’t make ends meet. This account was confirmed by the arrival of an electricity company employee, following their deaths, to cut power supply to the house due to delinquent payments.
Yet the pro-government media seemed reluctant to reveal this story, which provides a clear example of the economic hardships many people in Turkey face. Instead, CNN Turk described this tragedy as a case of domestic violence. However, the police officer cited by CNN Turk said that all the circumstances point to a suicide and not any other scenario. The journalist asked a list of other questions, including whether any alcohol had been found at the home.
Four days later, another family of four was found dead, this time in the southern city of Antalya. Again, poisoning was the suspected cause of death. Poverty was the suspected driver. The father left a message saying that “there is no more to do.”
These two appalling incidents are not unrelated. Suicides in Turkey have been worryingly growing since at least 2015. The main cause is poverty. Economic conditions are deteriorating rapidly. But even more alarming is the media’s refusal to report on this. Just like in their coverage of this recent food crisis, Turkish outlets continue to ignore and obscure the facts, due to fear of the government. The ultimate victim is the Turkish public. – Michael Mackenzie
Al-Masry Al-Youm, Egypt, November 14
Like many other Egyptians, I, too, followed the crisis that unfolded in response to a cartoon video posted on the Knowledge Bank website of the Ministry of Education, which was produced by Discovery Education. The video raised the wrath of parents around the country because of what they described as “vulgar behavior” and “the use of language that encourages the harassment of women.”
In the video, which seeks to explain the concept of polynomial functions to students, a commentator can be heard describing the following scenario: “You stand with your friends at the kiosk after school, minding your own business, when all of the sudden a young woman walks across the street. Your friend decides to write his telephone number on a piece of paper and throw it toward her.” The video also contains slur words used by people on the streets.
There is absolutely no doubt that the contents of this clip are outrageous and do not meet the basic etiquette expected from students at a school (let alone ministry officials). It is therefore shocking that the Ministry of Education produced and approved this material, which sought to simplify mathematics to students, but brought about more damage to students than anything else.
Sadly, instead of dealing with legitimate criticism, the ministry is doing everything in its power to push responsibility onto others. Instead of listening to the feedback and mending its ways, the ministry continues to get itself involved in more problems while neglecting existing ones.
That said, we should all fulfill our duties in this relationship. As students and parents, we must enable a process of trial and error, as the ministry rolls out new programs designed to modernize our education system. And unlike in this situation, when mistakes are benign, we should learn to be more forgiving. This is the only way to improve our outdated school curricula and lead to an overhaul in our national education system.
The ministry ultimately deleted the video, but it was too little, too late. The reaction was not only apathetic but also ignorant. Perhaps decision-makers within the ministry should first reeducate themselves on issues of morality, ethics and human dignity, before trying to improve our children’s education in mathematics. It seems as though they forgot the very name of their own office: the Ministry of Culture and Education. There is no education without culture. – Abdel Latif al-Manawi
Al Arabiya, Saudi Arabia, November 15
It seems as if the question of the day is the following: Will America be weakened by its withdrawal from Syria? The answer is no. The withdrawal itself has not been fully realized, and Trump himself has made a number of statements on this point, most recently speaking about the need to maintain at least some forces on the ground to protect oil fields in the region. Based on Trump’s conflicting statements and the responses of US officials, we understand that America does not intend to truly withdraw from the region, weaken its presence in the Middle East, or abandon the regional and international order it has sought to build over the decades.
But why is Trump so hesitant and contradictory about this? The short answer is domestic politics. When the US president says he wants to withdraw from Syria, he is trying to appeal to a domestic audience, as well as to a number of prominent Republican isolationists. He is trying to block his rivals from the Democratic Party from using Syria to attack him. Trump’s biggest nightmare is to shed American blood in distant enemy territories. This will serve as a political fiasco that will most certainly come back to haunt him in the elections. That’s why we hear him speak inconsistently. “Time to bring our soldiers back home,” “not interfering in world affairs” and “taking care of our domestic issues first” are all superficial populist ideas that resonate with a surprisingly large audience of American voters. Therefore, American politicians are racing to repeat these mantras as much as they can, with a hope for electoral gain.
This is exactly what Trump is doing. He understands the media game well; he knows that what people think is far more important than truth itself. Therefore, he can jump around an issue and deliver contradictory messages, with the hope of satisfying both his voters and the Republican establishment at once.
We might understand what Trump’s true vision for the region is only after the 2020 elections. If Trump wins the next election and succeeds to alleviate the heavy pressure placed on his shoulders, it is likely that we will see him enacting a more explicit foreign policy in the Middle East. He would be free to speak openly and express his true worldview.
In the meantime, Trump is besieged by Republican figures who will protect him from isolation and force him to expand American power to challenge rising enemies like North Korea or Iran. Therefore, at least for now, it is unlikely that American power will recede. – Mamdouh al-Muhaini
Al-Ittihad, UAE, November 14
Six days after the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, some of his followers in northern Mali carried out a terrorist attack in his name. The attack took place at the borders of Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso, which are part of a wider region stretching to the Sahara and West African coast. ISIS operates in this region under the name of the Sahara Caliphate.
However, managing such a large terrorist operation does not mean that Baghdadi’s death did not have a significant impact on the organization’s branches in many parts of the world. Preparations for the post-Baghdadi era began weeks before his death, given the assumption that he would eventually be found and killed. Part of this preparation meant that many ISIS branches began increasingly relying on local capabilities and operating in a self-directed manner. ISIS, as a whole, is likely to become more self-reliant in the future, after the group was defeated in its main strongholds in Syria and Iraq, forcing its leaders to hide.
Therefore, the perception of ISIS as an organization must now be reviewed, as the repercussions of its military defeat in Iraq and Syria have inevitably affected its structure and brought it closer to a franchised network than to a stand-alone organization in the strict sense.
The associated groups are located in several countries in Central Asia, the Middle East and West and Central Africa. These three regions accounted for 85% of all ISIS terrorist operations, according to the 2018 State Department Global Terrorism Report. Now our attention must shift to Central Asia, where ISIS could establish its next hotbed. Indeed, ISIS has managed to establish a significant sphere of influence in some parts of Afghanistan and in the Caucasus, alongside places such as Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia.
In the Middle East, the situation is now different. There, ISIS is weaker than it ever was before. Its small group in northeastern Sinai faces great difficulties after the painful blows it has suffered from the Egyptian Army, so it was the first to pledge allegiance to the new leader, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Quraishi, only 48 hours after the announcement of his inauguration. Ambiguity also surrounds the status of ISIS groups in Yemen since the Arab coalition launched a successful operation that led to the arrest of its leader, Abu Usama al-Muhajir, in June. The same is true for its affiliated groups in Libya, after the National Army succeeded in liberating the eastern and southern parts of the country, while the government, which still controls Tripoli, remains silent about the extent of these groups among the militias on which it relies.
The reading of the current ISIS map suggests that confronting its associated groups requires building a new international alliance to fight it in Central Asia, through close cooperation between NATO and the Collective Security Treaty Organization, which includes Russia, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, and a second alliance to fight it in West and Central Africa. All of this should come hand in hand with a continued cracking down on ISIS in the Middle East. These simultaneous efforts in the three regions should unfold in tandem, with a continued push to dry up the remaining sources of funding available to ISIS, reduce the ability of its operatives to move across borders, as well as develop mechanisms to gather the information necessary for pinpointed attacks against its leaders. This is likely to be the nature of the next phase in the war on ISIS. – Waheed Abd al-Majid
Media Line.