x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

After a year, the Union for the Mediterranean

According to Abdullah Iskandar, a regular columnist at the pan-Arab daily Al Hayat, it is still rather risky to judge as positive the performance of the one-year-old Union for the Mediterranean.

According to Abdullah Iskandar, a regular columnist at the pan-Arab daily Al Hayat, it is still rather risky to judge as positive the performance of the one-year-old Union for the Mediterranean (UM). The UM opening summit, which took place in Paris last July, attracted much international attention to the array of heads of states in attendance, but in view of the various considerations that either unite or divide them, the organisation's actual agenda was somewhat overlooked.

True, three meetings at the ministerial level have been held since its inception, but their nature remained more "procedural" than "decisional". Moreover, a number of UM member states were not convinced about the feasibility of the higher ambitions expressed by the French president Nicolas Sarkozy, the initiator of the UM. Indeed, the UM remains stuck in the regurgitation of common flowery mottos such as the necessity to "preserve the environment" and "bolster education and scientific research". But, admittedly, the fledgling body faced many inopportune obstacles. The deadlock in the Arab-Israeli peace process after the Gaza attack, the election of a hardline government in Israel - further denting prospects for indirect talks between Tel Aviv and Damascus - the inter-Palestinian divide and the global downturn, all have combined to blunt the UM's peace and co-operation efforts.

Only after a series of reckless policies that led to deepening Palestinian divisions and brought disaster to the people of Gaza, and after delusional celebrations of a fairy-tale victory against Israelis in the last Gaza invasion, did Hamas finally recognise its dire predicament and realise that its popularity has reached its nadir, commented Abdulhamid al Ansari in the opinion section of the Abu Dhabi-based daily Al Ittihad.

"This lesson that cost Hamas so dearly is the same lesson that Hizbollah learnt in the summer of 2006," al Ansari wrote. "That is why Hizbollah has not fired a single bullet since then, in spite of the many occasions that called for it." Being the ones who pay the ultimate price, civilians have come to know that these "armed propagandist groups", which operate without legitimate state authority and take critical decisions "behind its back", did not learn their lesson any sooner because they were sucked in an "illusory and fictitious" cycle of sensationalist slogans. Now Hamas has decided to preserve what remains of its followers' base by showing political flexibility regarding some general demands of the international community. Its leaders are finally stating publicly that they favour a peaceful solution and intend to come out of their diplomatic alienation. After this, what will happen?

"After four years of hibernation, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) officially released its report on human development in the Arab world on Tuesday; a report which had a significant political, developmental impact when its first four parts were published between 2002-2005," wrote Bater Wardem in the Jordanian daily Addustour.

Titled "The Challenges of Human Security in the Arab Region", the new report offers a development-orientated approach to security that goes beyond the more traditional principles of "preserving life" and "rejecting military action" to encompass the assurance of justice, equal opportunity, and the rights of women and children. The UNDP report calls for enforcing the laws that protect public liberties and civil rights, and urges the Arab governments to empower institutions and promote legislation dealing with environmental protection and sustainable development, including fighting desertification.

The highlight of the report consisted in the "bold recommendations" it listed, advising oil-reliant Arab countries to diversity their economies and move towards a "cognitive economy" based on information. "But the real impact remains conditional upon the readiness of the Arab governments to translate these recommendations into reality, which has not been the case with the previous reports," the writer concluded.

The opposition in Iran may have stopped demanding a new election, but a major opposition figure, the former president Mohammad Khatami, has called instead for a national referendum on the last elections; a "rational bid" that Iran should embrace if it wishes to avoid the worst, opined Mazzen Hammad in comment pages of the Qatari daily Al Watan. Mr Khatami's demand comes only a few days after Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who is also a former president and an emblematic figure of the opposition, proposed an open dialogue between conservatives and reformists to push for the solution to the lingering crisis.

By Iranian law, the power to decree a referendum lies with the Supreme Leader, in other words, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the execution thereof shall be undertaken by the Assembly of Experts, which is under Mr Khamenei's authority. But the reformists have been publicly accusing the Assembly of Experts of siding with the re-elected president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Mr Khatami's pitch thus specifies the Nation's Exigency Council, which is headed none other than Mr Rafsanjani, as the neutral authority to supervise the referendum process.

* Digest compiled by Achraf A El Bahi AElBahi@thenational.ae