x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Obama's policy did not help to achieve progress in Middle East

Although the Middle East would have been better off if George W Bush had never made it to the White House, President Obama's tenure did not bring any cheer to the region. Other topics include: Gulf states and television drama.

From Bush to Obama, US policy on Middle East could not help to foster any real progress

Although the Middle East would have been better off if George W Bush had never made it to the White House, President Barack Obama's tenure did not bring any cheer to the region, according to Khaled Al Dakheel, a Saudi contributor to the London-based newspaper Al Hayat.

In a column yesterday, the writer said that even though Mr Obama was the "complete opposite" of Mr Bush, his time in office so far has not proven more positive for the Middle East, with Washington still dawdling on pressing issues such as the Syrian conflict and Iran's nuclear programme.

"Bush was hotheaded, convinced that American values must rule the world, and was deluding himself that his decisions and policies were dictated by divine intelligence," the writer said. "Obama is more down to earth, believing in American values but leaning more towards restraint in matters of foreign policy … Yet, despite this clear difference in character and political style, the results of Obama's foreign policy in the Middle East are practically as poor as those of his predecessor."

Take Iran for instance, the author went on, where Mr Obama "did not make any progress" during his entire first tenure, while Iran's enrichment capability has reached over 20 per cent and more nuclear reactors are on the way.

"Obama is opting for a political solution to his issue, although some compromise with the Russians. He has spent more than four years pushing for a diplomatic solution, backing it up with sanctions, but achieved absolutely nothing."

The end result is a long wait, the author said, which seems to be the same strategy President Obama is adopting in Syria.

Although Mr Obama once described the potential use of chemical weapons by the regime of Bashar Al Assad in the ongoing civil war in Syria as "a red line" and "a game-changer", he softened the tone when the weapons were, indeed, used.

At a joint press conference with King Abdullah II of Jordan at the Oval Office on Friday, Mr Obama said: "But I think all of us, not just in the United States but around the world, recognise how we cannot stand by and permit the systematic use of weapons like chemical weapons on civilian populations."

What is the word "systematic" doing there?

"It means one thing," Al Dakheel, said, "which is that the 'unsystematic', 'intermittent' use of chemical weapons does not amount to crossing the red line."

When one considers Iran and Syria, a complete lack of movement on the Palestinian front and a poor post-withdrawal planning in Iraq, one realises how little Mr Obama achieved in the Middle East and how low the his track record in the region really is, he concluded.

Sectarian conflict worries Gulf states

The growing sectarian conflicts in the region have started to affect the Gulf states, noted Shamlan Youssef Al Issa, a Kuwaiti writer, in an article in the Abu Dhabi-based newspaper Al Ittihad.

With sectarian strife taking its toll on many people in Iraq, Lebanon and Syria, and the growing interference in Arab affairs of the regional powers, namely Iran and Turkey, Gulf states are becoming increasingly concerned, the writer said.

Islamist organisations have supported the Syrian revolution, and raised money from the local community to back the Free Army. For their part, the Gulf governments raised funds to help Syrian refugees in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon.

But the novelty is the trend of Salafists taking a religious stance on the Syrian regime, especially after Iran and Hizbollah have interfered in the sectarian strife, he went on.

Some youngsters from the Gulf region have engaged in jihadist activities in Syria.

Gulf countries fear the sectarian rhetoric some hard-line Islamist organisations are adopting, amid Iran's support for the Syrian regime and its influence reaching Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen.

Hardliners who disseminate such sectarian rhetoric over the conflict in Syria ignore the fact that it is about a battle for freedom and democracy and against dictatorship.

Egyptian drama to face 'Turkish invasion'

Egypt's cultural organisations fear what they call "invasion of the Turkish drama" across all Arabic channels, remarked the film critic Tarek El Shenawi in the Cairo-based paper Al Tahrir.

"I hope cultural authorities in Egypt won't go ahead with a plan against Turkish drama," the writer said. After all, it is a matter of business. Turkish TV series are much cheaper, perhaps 10 per cent less than the price of Egyptian series, plus Egyptian viewers have developed a liking for them.

A cheaper price is a key factor for sealing deals. But a television channel does not present a serial drama just to cover empty hours. It does so when it is sure about the appetite of viewers for it.

Attempts are underway in Egypt to undermine the popular Turkish television productions. But this is no easy task. The drama market is open, and one cannot tell a television channel not to buy a Turkish series which it deems aesthetically and financially good, the critic wrote.

Even if cultural organisations enforced a law banning sale of Turkish series, viewers would search for them in other Arabic channels.

Instead, high-quality Egyptian dramas which are not solely dedicated to Ramadan can help restore the Egyptian viewership.

* Digest compiled by The Translation Desk