x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Snowden reveals how spying is rife

The United States isn't alone in its espionage activities, writes and Arabic-language commentator. Other subjects: tyranny, and the way the West now views Iraq.

Based on leaks from former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, US intelligence has monitored up to 70 million phone calls made in France, and has spied on the leaders of Mexico, Brazil, Germany and many other nations, and on international organisations.

This, remarked Fahmi Huwaidi in the Doha-based newspaper Al Sharq, reveals that spying even between friendly nations is alive and kicking.

While the US takes the lead in intelligence activities considering that it is still the greatest power worldwide, the truth is that other countries are also involved in eavesdropping.

If, for instance, some intelligence employees in the UK or France had a pang of conscience and decided to share what they know, their disclosures would show that their countries do what the US does, argued the writer.

“What is happening in the outside world is not alien to us; not only because we are addicted to copying the worst things from the West, especially restrictions on freedom, but also because of the growing influence of the police state in the Arab world,” he added.

In fact, the only real progress in this part of the world is probably limited to that area. The Council of Arab Interior Ministers has, for more than three decades, been the most successful of areas of joint Arab action.

Although the agencies and their missions are the same worldwide, there are several differences between the espionage practised by democratic countries and the one happening in the Arab world. A major difference is that spying in democracies mainly seeks to protect nations. But here it is dedicated to protecting regimes and their influence.

Eavesdropping on citizens in the West is practised only after approval from judicial authorities; here it is done by virtue of a security decision, which might be supported later by a court.

A third difference is that in democracies, there are institutions that can hold authorities and security agencies to account if they cross the line, while in the Arab world security bodies are beyond any such oversight.

In Egypt, phone-call monitoring has been in place since the 1952 revolution, although in varying degrees and for differing purposes, the writer noted. He added that he heard from a former interior minister that under Hosni Mubarak, three copies were prepared every day at the interior ministry based on eavesdropping – one for Mr Mubarak, one for his son Gamal and the third for his wife Suzanne. Such activities have increased since the removal of president Mohammed Morsi on July 3, according to the writer.

The tremendous revolution in communications has taken its toll on people’s privacy and freedom. This is particularly worse in countries where there is a lack of guarantees and institutions that safeguard people’s freedom and privacy, he concluded.

For what did Arabs make sacrifices?

Now that decades have passed since Arab nations became free from the “foreign colonisers”, Arabs have to ask themselves the following question: “Was our fight against the occupation for the sake of freedom, justice, equality and dignity or was it just out of hatred for the rule of outsiders?”

So wrote Bahraini author Ali Mohammed Fakhro in yesterday’s edition of the Sharjah-based newspaper Al Khaleej.

Arabs must mull over this question to see whether it is for them a matter of preference between outsiders and insiders and the victory of the latter, or it is rather a matter of an unwavering belief in human principles that put dignity, freedom and justice above all else, including life under slavery, the writer said.

Reason says that people fight to see those human principles realised in their daily lives, irrespective of who violates them, the outside colonisers or the inside dictators.

Injustice is injustice whether it is done under English rule or French rule, or by a tyrannical tribe, sect or junta at home.

Arab nations, which sacrificed millions of causalities to free their countries from foreign occupation, should by no means give up their rights no matter who infringes them.

Yet this obvious conclusion does not ring true in Arab reality, the writer said. The Arab people had for six decades astonishingly coexisted with all sorts of local injustices until the Arab Spring.

Western media pushes optimism towards Iran

Despite the “phobia” among some Arab countries towards the recent US-Iran rapprochement – which is more like a test towards readiness for dialogue than a real detente – western media has promoted an optimistic outlook towards Iran since the election of Hassan Rouhani as president, wrote Jihad Al Zein in the Lebanese paper Annahar.

The western media, especially the American media, is playing a pivotal role in spreading a wave of optimism about relations between the West and Iran.

The recent visit by Mr Rouhani to the US did not see any “traps”, while his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, had loads of traps set for him, into which he would easily fall given his open, hardline views.

The positive mood in the US has continued despite Israel’s concerns over Iran’s nuclear programme. The US-based online magazine Newsweek recently said in a report titled The Phantom Menace that Iran’s nuclear capabilities are greatly exaggerated.

Dozens of reports in the western media seem influenced by the US-Iran test for dialogue, which helped in achieving a US-Russian agreement over Syria’s chemical arsenal, with Iran appearing as a pivotal partner in this major progress that also benefits Israel, the writer concluded.

* Digest compiled by Abdelhafid Ezzouitni

AEzzouitni@thenational.ae