Tuesday,21 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1140, 21 - 27 March 2013
Tuesday,21 August, 2018
Issue 1140, 21 - 27 March 2013

Ahram Weekly

Rome to Carthage

Al-Ahram Weekly

The rocky road from Rome to Carthage via Riyadh bodes ill. The commentators and Arab pundits penned articles that reflected a climate of gloom and doom. The enthronement of Pope Francis attracted the attention of many pundits even though Syria and the Arab Spring continued to predominate in the press. Jihad Al-Khazen in the London-based pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat hailed the selection of Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as the new Pope of the Roman Catholic Church as a sea change for the peoples of Latin America, Asia, Africa and the Arab world. This is the first time in history that a non-European pope is crowned as head of the Catholic Church. However, Al-Khazen, decided to tackle the issue from an Arab perspective.
“There is an extensive boycott implemented by Protestant churches which have called on their followers to divest from Israel and refrain from buying Israeli goods produced in the occupied territories. The Roman Catholic Church is present in the occupied territories, particularly in Jerusalem, and is fully aware of what Israel perpetrates every day against the Palestinians, and the Union of Christian Denominations records Israel’s violations there regularly. “I propose that Al-Azhar Al-Sharif and its head, Dr Ahmed Al-Tayeb, initiate a dialogue with the new pope to foster cooperation against the government of Israel and its racist-colonial policies,” Al-Khazen noted.
“He does not call for a declared or secret alliance, but only cooperation, and not against Jews or even Israel, but against a government of murderous war criminals that has left Israel in dangerous isolation around the world, as AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby, said a few days ago in Washington DC,” Al-Khazen extrapolated.
The writer recalled another meeting with a former pope that left an indelible impression on Al-Khazen. He wondered whether the new pope would be interested in cementing ties between the adherents of Catholicism and the Arab world. “The new pope reminded me of the only pope I had met and spoken with, Pope John Paul II. The opportunity to meet him came when the late Prince Sultan bin Abdel-Aziz, the Saudi defence minister at the time, made an official visit to Italy in the 1990s, which included a meeting with the pope at his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo,” Al-Khazen concluded.
Hazem Saghieh also writing in Al-Hayat condemned the rising tide of racism in Lebanon in light of the escalating Lebanese civil war. “All forms of racism, despite their disparate — expressive and practical — manifestations, share one thing: a deep denial of one’s reality. To be sure, the more ‘our’ situation deteriorates the more blame we assign to others, such as immigrants and foreigners,” Saghieh extrapolated.
“The fact of the matter is that expressing racism by some Lebanese towards Syrians, Palestinians and foreign workers, is inseparable from the deterioration affecting Lebanon and the essence of being Lebanese, starting from 1975 onwards,” Saghieh noted.
“In Lebanon, the fall from grace appears more dramatic because the ‘bragging pedestal’ was always higher. The reason is that ever since that old folkloric image of Lebanon as a ‘piece of heaven’ was shattered, no alternative and realistic image emerged to replace it. In the meantime, many bowed down to the strong ‘foreigners’, from the Palestinian militants in the 1970s to the Israeli soldiers in the 1980s, with a special long-lasting focus on Syrian soldiers,” Saghieh insightfully observed.
“At the same time, consecutive wars destroyed alleged Lebanese unity, not just through fierce competition among the sects, but also through humiliating subjugation to militants and militias made up of fellow Lebanese. Our ‘civilisation’ overflowed with brutality and criminality in a manner that no one would like to ever discover in themselves,” he lamented.
“As soon as our war ended officially in 1989-1990, with the Taif accord, we found ourselves envying economic and financial models emerging in our vicinity, particularly in the Gulf. In the end, all that was left for us from the ‘Switzerland of the East’ as Lebanon was once called, was exactly what was left for us from the so-called “mission of coexistence among religions and sects”, he summed up.
Abdallah Iskandar also writing in Al-Hayat explored the tense relationship between the civil war in Syria and the Lebanese political establishment that is characterised by sectarianism and confessional strife. “Repeated statements by Lebanese officials about dissociation from the Syrian crisis have now come to express the political stances of those who make them, rather than those of the government or of the executive branch in a country in control of its own decision-making. Indeed, the statements made by President Michel Suleiman or Prime Minister Najib Mikati remain within the bounds of expressing the stances of these officials on a personal level, not at the level of government policy — thus making of the official policy of dissociation, regardless of intentions, a certain way to relieve one’s conscience, being completely out of the scope of government influence,” Iskandar noted.
“There is claimed to be in Lebanon a government coalition comprised of various forces. Yet in reality, decisions made by a single party in the coalition, on the basis of its own considerations, can go through in the government. Yet it would be impossible for other things to go through, if that party in particular were to reject them. This means that the government, regardless of its diverse political constituents and of the distribution of sectarian shares within it, remains in its decision-making subjected to the approval of Hizbullah,” Iskandar warned.
“This imbalance in decision-making goes beyond the political split between the 8 March alliance led by Hizbullah and the 14 March alliance led by the Future movement. It regards the way decisions are taken in the government, a process which at this point clearly departs from the text of the Taif agreement and its constitution, as well as from its spirit, making of the state institutions issued out of this agreement false witnesses to the shift of decision-making away from it,” Iskandar lambasted the cynicism of the Lebanese politicians and their vulnerability to the dynamics of the sectarian conflict in Syria.
Shifting to Saudi affairs, Tarek Al-Homayed writing in the London-based pan-Arab daily Asharq Al-Awsat slammed the Saudi cleric Sheikh Salman Al-Ouda. In a piece entitled ‘Salman Al-Ouda’s shameful words’ Al-Homayed lambasted the outspoken Saudi preacher who was highly critical of the Saudi regime warning that an “Arab Spring” is on the cards with popular discontent. “Salman Al-Ouda has published what he calls an open letter, in which he claims to be speaking on behalf of the Saudis and their affairs. Yet the letter is full of contradictions and evidence of his inflated ego, as if he was posting it on Twitter, where everything is a matter of opinion,” Al-Homayed noted.
This is the man who referred to the conflict in Iraq as a jihad, with video clips on YouTube to prove it. This is the man who witnessed regimes that he once championed fall during the so-called Arab Spring, such as in Tunisia for example, only to then return and criticise those former regimes after the tables were turned, revealing his blatant Muslim Brotherhood agenda. This is the Salman Al-Ouda that we should now believe? How puzzling. Al-Ouda wants the Saudis to change their mind and positions whenever he does; to be hardline at certain points and tolerant at others, all within the context of his tireless search for fame and notoriety. This is Ouda’s primary concern, and instead of him addressing those recently arrested on terrorism charges, and issuing a statement revising his ideas that have misled these young people and many others in the past, we see this shameless inflammatory rhetoric today.
“It is strange that Ouda speaks about Saudi Arabia as if the country is a volatile powder keg, whereas the truth is that his open letter is shameful, almost like blackmail, and full of his bloated ego,” Al-Homayed summed up his views on Al-Ouda. Indeed, Asharq Al-Awsat was replete with similar scathing criticisms of Al-Ouda.
Fatima bin Abdallah Kabay, writing in the Tunisian daily Asherouk, lamented the lack of political stability and social unrest in Tunisia two years after the Arab Spring. “The suicide of Adel Khodri, a 27-year-old unemployed man in Tunis is a grim reminder of a similar suicide, that of Mohamed Bouazizi that sparked the Tunisian and entire Arab Spring. Unless the dire economic situation improves and joblessness is reduced then political unrest and public anger and frustration will derail the political process of democratisation,” Kabay warned.
She quoted Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki as saying that the “suicide of the Tunisian youth was a cry of utter anger”. Indeed, she also noted that the suicide coincided with the formation of yet a new Tunisian government under the leadership of Prime Minister Mohamed Al-Orayed.

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