x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

A newspaper comments on the changing role of regional armies

A survey of Arabic-language newspapers focuses on Unesco funding after the vote on Palestine, civilian deaths in Libya and faith-based political parties

Politics and the army: new rules of the game

The conduct of Arab military institutions in the course of the Arab Spring raises many questions, Kuwaiti academic Shafiq Al Ghabra suggested in the Emirati newspaper Al Ittihad.

In Tunisia and Egypt, it was the army that resolved the situation for the forces of change. In this sense, the military in both countries became an integral part of the revolutionary forces.

However, in both countries the army had been an essential part of the old regime, and in one historical moment chose to turn on itself and help save Tunisia and Egypt from mayhem and national disaster.

In contrast, in other countries such as Yemen, Libya and Syria, the army played and continues to play a completely different and negative role.

"When armies are formed in fear of others in the same country, whether the others are a majority or a minority, they are bound to lose their national, patriotic spirit," said the writer. "The army becomes a force protecting a regime, a category or a sect rather than the entire homeland and its future. And with time, a frightened army develops a form of hatred for certain groups within society, which eventually distorts its understanding of its role as a national defender."

The Arab Spring has indeed changed the situation of peoples, but it has certainly also altered the position of armies in the Arab equation.

Who will cover the loss of US Unesco funds?

To fathom the enormity of the US withdrawal from Unesco following the naming of Palestine as a new member of the international body, one should try to imagine Saudi Arabia withdrawing from the Islamic World League, columnist Abdulrahman Al Rashid wrote in the London-based newspaper Al Sharq Al Awsat.

"It is unfathomable that the United States, the largest producer of cultural works in the world, remains outside the cultural organisation," he said.

"But it is in the end the decision of the Americans who chose to withdraw as a show of solidarity with Israel."

These are political positions that have nothing to do with culture.

And if Palestine's membership is a happy, if symbolic, event, it should in no way be exploited by the West to burden the Arab states, mainly the Gulf states, with US's $80 million share.

"It is a cost we would gladly and willingly assume were Palestine's membership to give back any tangible rewards to the Palestinians. But its seat at Unesco is symbolic and completely different than the one it strives for at the UN," he added.

"I personally would prefer that the $80 million sum be granted directly to Palestinian schools in the occupied territories rather than to Unesco's bureaucracy."

No one is innocent of Libya civilian deaths

In an opinion article for the Jordanian newspaper Al Rai, columnist Tareq Massarwa asked: "What difference was there between Nato bullets and Qaddafi-loyalists' bullets as long as the outcome was one and the same and they all ended up killing Libyan citizens?"

Then he went on to ask: "When it comes to the plundering of Libya's oil money, what difference does it make whether the plunderers are US, French and British oil companies or Col Qaddafi and his entourage?"

In post-Qaddafi Libya, the scene abounds with contrasting points of view; not all Libyans opposed Qaddafi. In fact, many a voice can be heard condemning the rebels and the Nato alliance.

Of course, in no way can Nato be acquitted of Libya's disaster. The alliance isn't a charitable association designed to defend the interests of various peoples. Foreign powers almost always have malign intentions.

"One needs to adhere to reason and reason only in dealing with the current events in the Arab world. We have been covering for military dictatorships for a long time because we got ourselves to believe that they needed to be that way because they were on their way to liberate Palestine and defend the Arab world against colonialism," he wrote. "But we should have known that a man who enslaves his own people would never liberate Palestine or ward off the danger of occupation by foreign powers."

Islamic parties in Arab world aren't radical

The Islamic movements that the Arab Spring has given rise to recently have distanced themselves from extremism and radicalism, but this doesn't stop the West from exploiting them as threats, columnist Mazen Hammad wrote in the Qatari newspaper Al Watan.

The Islamists won the elections in Tunisia and are well on their way to reaping similar results in Egypt and Libya. Their presence on the political map will certainly be felt in Syria and Yemen as well when the time comes.

However, Western powers aren't entirely satisfied with the outcome of the elections and it is hard to believe Washington when it says that it wouldn't object should honest parliamentary elections in Egypt yield a victory for the Muslim Brotherhood.

Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, once announced that the US had negotiated with the Egyptian Brotherhood in the effort to cope with political change, but these talks infuriated a number of US congressmen who feared that the Islamic party would seek to impose Islamic Sharia in Egypt.

"The Arab pro-democracy movement is capable of rejecting terrorism," the writer added. "That Arab peoples refuse to be represented by radical Islam such as Al Qaeda is a truth that most reasonable analysts realise."

* Digest compiled by Racha Makarem

RMakarem@thenational.ae