x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Is the fear of Islamists justified in Arab societies?

"Yes, but …" answers an Arab journalist. Other comment topics today: the US and Gulf security, and the big Gulf Cup victory.

While many of the fears about Islamists can be justified, there are a few that are not legitimate

"Is the fear of Islamists justifiable?", asked Taoufik Bouachrine in an opinion piece in the Moroccan daily Akhbar Al Youm. The answer is "yes" followed by "but", and here are the reasons:

Islamists are very popular with Arab publics today. This is because "hungry stomachs listen only to the sounds that promise them bread, even if you play for them the finest melodies of Mozart and Beethoven", the writer noted.

With the left declining and the liberals in alliance with dictatorial regimes, Islamists have become the spearhead of defending social justice and people's rights to the staff of life and minimal dignity.

The poor and a large segment of the middle class follow Islamists because they see hope for a better life in the Islamists' rhetoric. They have given up on leftists and liberals who have betrayed their principles.

But Arab societies are not all poor or marginalised. There are also the rich, businessmen and businesswomen, an upper middle class, a dynamic civil society, an active women's movement, a "21st century youth", as well as intellectuals, artists and technocrats, the writer said.

All these social segments who are influential in public life fear Islamists. And it is a legitimate fear. They are concerned about their freedom and their open lifestyles.

Islamists are oblivious of the clout such groups have in society. Democracy, Islamists imagine, is merely the numerical difference at the polls. But far from that, it is a game with rules and borderlines, which a winner has no right to approach.

Among these rules are: respect for minority rights, respect for individuals' private lives, and respect for the universal principles of human rights.

For instance, an Islamist party winning 51 per cent of the votes cannot impose the hijab on women, as is the case in Iran, Sudan and Afghanistan under the Taliban, nor can it revoke the principle of plurality in the name of religion.

Islamists in Morocco and the Arab world have developed, intellectually and politically, from the zeal of genesis in the 1960s and 1970s. But this evolution has not been voluntary. It was, for the most part, under the pressure of jail terms, exiles and losing battles, hence the legitimate apprehension among rivals that Islamists might return to their old habits after they take power.

So Islamists must display good intentions via deep ideological revisions, not via changeable political discourses.

The "but" at the start is justifiable in the fact that there is a legitimate fear of Islamists and there is a fear that is not legitimate. It is not legitimate because it hides behind Islamists' mistakes in fear of democracy, seeking to keep things unchanged and keep the oligarchy in power, the writer concluded.

Will Washington give up on Gulf security?

"Some people are talking about the possibility of the United States leaving the Gulf region within the next 20 years," wrote Dr Mohammed bin Huwaidin, head of the UAE University's political science department, in yesterday's edition of the Dubai-based newspaper Al Bayan.

The holders of this view cite US reports that show America is poised to become an oil-exporting country in two decades, under President Barack Obama's current policy of working towards self-sufficiency in energy, the author said.

"The prospect of the US achieving self-sufficiency in oil is viable, especially along the lines of President Obama's policy of investing in the domestic energy sector, notably in the US's offshore oil and gasfields," the writer said.

"However, claiming that this will lead to a US exit from the region and a desertion of Gulf security is a bit exaggerated."

Washington looks at this region from a strategic, not a tactical, angle, he observed.

Energy is still the top entry on the US agenda in the Gulf region. No less than 16 per cent of the foreign oil the US needs comes from the Gulf, the author said.

The US is also aware that there are other world powers, notably China, that are seeking to undermine its hegemony in the region.

"So even if the US becomes self-sufficient in energy, it cannot simply leave the region open to its number-one competitor," the writer concluded.

UAE title is much more than a sporting victory

"There is no greater joy than a nation's collective joy, and the UAE these days is blessed with that kind of joy," wrote Sami Al Reyyami, editor of the UAE newspaper Al Emarat Al Youm, in an opinion article yesterday.

The UAE national football team clinched the Gulf Cup with a 2-1 victory over Iraq in Bahrain on Friday. The whole nation was euphoric.

In a phone call with Abu Dhabi Sports TV, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan spoke about the UAE President's jubilation.

"Sheikh Khalifa is like you all; he watched the game, was motivated and excited, and was so happy with this victory and achievement, in the same way all Emiratis were," the editor quoted Sheikh Mohammed as saying.

But this national joy is not just about football, the editor noted. It is about the ensuing sense of great pride, unity and belonging.

"All those Emirati families that were glued to their TVs, in every town and village across the country. All those elderly folk who also watched the game or accompanied their children to Manama while not really knowing the names of all the players or all the rules of the game … they were all euphoric, because it's about the UAE," he said.




* Digest compiled by The Translation Desk