x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

True leaders must have presence as well as policies, an Arabic-language columnist writes. Other topics: Egypt's reputation and Twitter in Iran.

“An Arab diplomat who had met on two occasions with the deposed Egyptian president, Mohammed Morsi, told me that he never really felt he was in the presence of a head of state, but rather in the presence of a small-time public servant or a mundane high schoolteacher,” Dr Sayed Ould Bah, a Mauritanian scholar, wrote in yesterday’s edition of the Abu Dhabi-based newspaper Al Ittihad.

The Arab diplomat predicted that Mr Morsi would not last in power, because he lacked an essential trait: charisma, the author said. “That, perhaps, explains the wide popularity enjoyed today by the Egyptian defence minister, Gen Abdel Fattah El Sisi. His popularity must be the result of a deep longing in Egypt for strong, assertive leadership, after a period of despair under the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood,” Ould Bah wrote.

In Tunisia, although the Arab Spring brought about much-needed freedoms and nurtured high hopes for a democratic future, it also revealed a political scene direly in need of the homogenising energy of a strong leader.

The Tunisian interim president, Moncef Marzouki, has simply kept to his profile of a “rights activist” and “intellectual politician”, while Ennahda, the Islamic party that won the majority of seats in the first parliamentary elections since the revolution, presented a few candidates who lacked both competence and conviction, the author went on.

The same is true of Morocco, a country where the tradition of an aristocratic elite in power is deeply ingrained and where prominent politicians were born, he wrote. Since the country’s 2011 general elections, in which the moderate Islamist party, Justice and Development, topped the lists, the Moroccan head of government, Abdelilah Benkirane, “has not succeeded in incarnating the image of the political leader. In fact, his populist language and gimmicks have been fodder for much derision in the media and on the street.”

The situation is even worse in Libya, the writer said.

“Some might say that the current situation is actually quite normal, given the region’s history of despotic leaders who subdued people with force and repression, making them pay their allegiance and express their loyalty through fear. Democracy, they would argue, is about the rule of the people; it is a place where the ruler has no sanctity, where the ruler is a mere executive delegated by the people, who are the source of all legitimacy and authority.”

Fine, Ould Bah contends, but such statements overlook a delicate nuance: to be complete, a leader’s legitimacy has to include efficiency and reliability, while making those being led feel proud and privileged.

“In their transition to pluralistic democracy, Arab societies are struggling with this fundamental issue,” the writer concluded.

Tweeting from Iran without restrictions

Last week, after a four-year government ban on social media, Iranians got direct access to Facebook and Twitter. Many rejoiced, hoping that the authorities had relaxed the ban in place since anti-regime protests in 2009. But their joy was short-lived.

“The ban was soon reactivated and Iran was able to maintain its high-ranking position among anti-internet nations,” said the Lebanese columnist Diana Mokalled in the London-based daily Asharq Al Awsat.

No one knows for certain what happened during those few hours. The newly elected president Hassan Rouhani had pledged to relax internet restrictions, but authorities said the momentary removal of the firewall was a technical glitch. Nonetheless, many believe that it was a government test to measure the public’s reaction should cyber freedoms be returned.

Strangely enough, the Iranian regime is active on the social media that it withholds from its own people. Officials have established Facebook and Twitter accounts and even the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, uses social media to post opinions and to receive praise.

“It appears that the regime was testing its ability to control social media and gauge the Iranian people’s response,” the writer said.

The race is on between the regime’s ability to continue to control the people and the Iranian people’s ability to break down the walls and create a new spring.

Terrorism is tarnishing Egypt’s reputation

If the Muslim Brotherhood were as good at governing as they are at terrorising, Mohammed Morsi would be into his second year as president of Egypt and Egyptians would be living in better economic and security circumstances, said the columnist Jihad Al Khazen in the pan-Arab daily Al Hayat.

Two types of terrorism can be seen in Egypt today: one practised by organised groups from Sinai to the Delta to Upper Egypt, and another practised by Brotherhood supporters in the cities.

“A couple of hundred of them stage a protest claiming to be peaceful and as soon as they get near a government building or a church, they either open fire at people or throw homemade grenades with the purpose of causing destruction for the sake of destruction,” the writer said.

“Terrorists are destroying Egypt’s reputation. They attack Muslims, Christians and even Jews. But enemies of Arabs and Muslims throughout the world only focus on terrorism acts that target Christian citizens and sites in Egypt to incite the world’s animosity towards the country.”

Egypt’s armed forces have sought the help of Muslim scholars to write against terrorism. It is a praiseworthy effort but it has gone to waste because terrorists aren’t readers. If they were, matters wouldn’t have reached such low levels of degradation.

* Digest compiled by The Translation Desk