x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Unanswered questions about threat posed by 'terrorist cell' arrests

A GCC-wide security plan is badly needed, a columnist argues. Other topics: a constitutional conspiracy and a night at the opera.

The announcement last week of the arrest of an alleged terrorist cell that was planning to carry out attacks in the UAE and Saudi Arabia ought to make a Gulf-wide security strategy a top priority, wrote Dr Salem Humaid, chairman of the Dubai-based Al Mezmah Centre for Studies and Research, in the UAE newspaper Al Ittihad yesterday.

Linking the alleged terrorist cell to "the hard-line Brotherhood organisation", the author said the balanced model that Gulf Cooperation Council nations embody challenges the Muslim Brotherhood's ambitions to entrench its power across the region.

Security officials said on Wednesday that those arrested were Emirati and Saudi nationals who had managed to obtain certain equipment and devices in preparation for terrorist attacks.

The fact that both the UAE and Saudi Arabia were being targeted by the same suspects, the writer said, ought to make Gulf strategists think more seriously about beefing up security collaboration between GCC nations, which is not happening yet.

After the GCC summit in Manama last week, which was held prior to the announcement of the arrests, the Bahraini foreign minister, Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, and the GCC secretary general, Abdul Latif Al Zayani, said there is no GCC plan to counter the threat of the Muslim Brotherhood in the region.

"Yet what uncovered the plot of this network of spineless Emiratis and Saudis is really the joint security efforts of the UAE and Saudi Arabia," the author argued. "However you look at it, you'd reach the same conclusion: a GCC-wide security plan is badly needed."

For his part, Kuwaiti columnist Shamlan Yussef Al Issi wrote in the same edition of Al Ittihad that there were many unanswered questions that needed to be asked following last week's arrest.

"The GGC summit last week concluded with a batch of decisions regarding joint security … but the final statement did not clarify whether these were defensive or offensive, did it?" he said.

"From the [GCC] leaders' perspective, what is the nature of the security threat that is lurking in the region? Are these threats internal or external? How do we deal with an internal threat? And is a security approach the only solution or, rather, are there political, social, economic and legal solutions that should be explored?

Undoubtedly, Gulf nations today have to face up to long-ignored "political Islam groups" that the so-called Arab Spring has now rendered mainstream.

But they "don't know how to effectively deal with this 'ghoul', with whom they once entrusted their school curricula and ministries of Islamic affairs", the writer noted, referring to the fact that Muslim Brotherhood in the past were tolerated as dominating forces in educational and religious institutions in some Gulf states.

A conspiracy afoot in Egypt's constitution

President Mohammed Morsi was calling citizens to vote for the draft of the new constitution and concurrently forming an ad hoc committee to mend the constitution - an unprecedented event in the history of the world's constitutions, wrote Jalal Aref in the Emirati newspaper Al Bayan yesterday.

This incident makes it hard to believe in the legitimacy of a constitution whose drafters admit it is invalid, and needs amendment before even being put to referendum, the writer noted.

This is not all. Yasser Al Borhami, a Salafist leader, revealed in a videotape a conspiracy in making the constitution, and talked about Islamists sealing deals to pass what they wished. He says that the new constitution has "restrictions on freedoms that have never been in any Egyptian constitution before", which will help him and his allies to control the Al Azhar Mosque, the press, the judiciary and people.

The controversial video, which apparently was banned on TV channels, and did not go viral until after the referendum on the constitution, substantiates the opposition's allegations that within the constituent assembly, there was a conspiracy.

It also confirms that the new constitution is not the product of the revolution, nor even of a civil state. It is a constitution that religious groups drafted to implement their plan of enforcing a dictatorial rule, he argued.

Russia's 'soft power' is not just a silly show

In Russia, the economy may be in decline, corruption may be rife. But the country's pride was and still is its soft power: culture and arts, remarked columnist Emad Eddine Hussein in the Cairo-based paper Al Shorouk.

"Some dreams do come true…on Thursday, 7pm I was sitting in the best seat at the Bolshoi theatre in Moscow, watching Eugene Onegin, an opera by Tchaikovsky," the writer said.

In the Bolshoi theatre-opera, respecting the rules is no laughing matter. One will be denied entry even if they are 15 minutes late. People watch in utter silence. And of course, no popcorn or sandwiches are allowed.

The writer added: "I thought that the audience would consist mostly of elderly, who have a passion for this high art. To my surprise, most were young people, watching the spectacle in awe and applauding solemnly at the end of every scene or act."

Whistling or excited cheers in the theatre were out of the question. Patrons could leave only during intervals, and no photography was allowed during the show. The Russian society has undergone many transformations. Yet culture has remained the order of day.

One lesson: politicians come and go, economies rise and fall, society changes. But culture remains.

* Digest compiled by Translation Desk