x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Arab newspaper questions the Saudi prohibition of women drivers

Editorials in Arab newspapers comment on the inaction of the US on the Palestinian issue, South Yemen as a haven for al Qa'eda and the West's attitude toward Egypt and Tunisia

Saudi women are still not allowed to drive

"Manal al Sharif is a Khaleeji woman who threw ignorant customs from the pre-Islamic era out the window," wrote Mariam al Sharouqi, a columnist with the Bahraini Al Wasat newspaper.

Manal, a 32-year-old Saudi woman, took on a major challenge when she revived a call - that was voiced by other women before her - for women's right to drive a car.

"So she went ahead and drove, knowing all too well what's in store for her - an angry response from the community and a bad reputation. She braved all obstacles in a bid to pave the way for a new generation of women who speak out for their rights in patriarchal society."

It doesn't stand to reason that, in this 21th century, when women travel to outer space and fly planes, this ban on driving be still in force.

For his part, Turki al Dakhil, a columnist with the Emirati Al Ittihad newspaper, said Saudi women expressed their desire to drive as early as 1990.

"Some hardliners were quick to accuse them of tabarruj (indecent exposure). Twenty years later, Manal al Sharif sat in the driver's seat and the same scratchy disc was played again."

It must be stressed, though, that while prominent Muslim clerics refute any religious grounds on which the ban may be based, not all pro-ban voices are men's.


A Palestinian refugee addresses Obama

"Mr Barack Obama, president of the United States, first I must introduce myself. I am a Palestinian refugee," wrote Majid Kiyali, a Palestinian writer, in the pan-Arab Al Hayat newspaper.

"I was not born in Palestine but in Halab, Syria, to parents who had been uprooted from their home. My father died in exile, yearning for his homeland, and my mother, quite old now, lives in exile as well.

"I married a girl from a refugee family. And we've had children, and they too are now refugees, and they too got married, so our grandchildren are refugees as well, with no state, no identity and no civil rights.

"Mr President, I was so excited when you were voted into office. It meant a lot as far as equality, liberty, justice, dignity and desire for change are concerned - values that you have embodied.

"I was also impressed by your Cairo speech to the Arab world. It gave a lot of people hope that a shift towards a better democracy in your country was in the works, also heralding a shift from absolute favouritism of Israel to supporting the Palestinians' fight for justice."

Yet, reality turned out to be different and recent developments - after Aipac and Benjamin Netanyahu's speech at the US Congress - show that none of that absolute support of Israel has budged,

"Meanwhile, we're still here."


Southern Yemen: al Qa'eda's new home?

Islamist hardliners have seized the city of Zinjibar, the capital of the Abyan province in southern Yemen, declared the London-based Al Quds al Arabi newspaper in its editorial.

"This has got to be the most serious development in the ongoing war between the president Ali Abdullah Saleh and his opponents who want him gone so they can lay the foundations for a new democratic system in the country."

The opposition has accused President Saleh of "handing over" Zinjibar to Islamist hardliners and members of al Qa'eda in an attempt to beguile the United States to enter the conflict.

"This accusation, hard as it is to refute or prove, foretells that Yemen is on the verge of becoming a completely failed state."

But it is still too early to trust reports that al Qa'eda has indeed set up an "Islamic emirate" in the city.

"Al Qa'eda does not need to establish an Islamic emirate in Zinjibar in the first place. The network has been there for years and actually used it as a launch pad for major attacks on the government forces in the area. It has been its recruitment base too."

What is certain is that the weaker the central government in Sana'a gets, the more of a stronghold southern Yemen becomes for radicals - another Afghanistan of sorts.


Whoever you are, the West is your friend

There is a staggering amount of hypocrisy in the way the West - mainly Western Europe and the United States - is dealing with the post-revolution administrations in Tunisia and Egypt, observed Mazen Hammad, a columnist with the Qatari newspaper Al Watan.

"The West is trumpeting its support for the Arab Spring and its potential to bring real democracy to the region, yet, parallel to that, this same West is still maintaining its alliances with the authoritarian regimes that are still standing in the region and elsewhere around the world."

The West couldn't care less about losing decades-long allies - in this case Tunisia's Ben Ali and Egypt's Mubarak - so long as the post-revolution policymakers remain open to western partners.

"The West would do everything to protect its interests and preserve ties with Arab regimes be they dictatorships or democracies. And here's the catch, I bet you that if by some miracle Ben Ali and Mubarak were to return to power, the West will change face again and throw a party and savour good old times."

The youth driving the Arab Spring are aware of this hypocrisy, and understanding the "sleazy pragmatics" of politics will serve them right in dealing with the West in the future.


* Digest compiled by Achraf A El Bahi