x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Censorship fails to stop Tunisian protests

The London-based newspaper Al Quds al Arabi calls for comprehensive political and economic reforms to solve the issues behind the latest wave of social and market unrest in Tunisia.

In response to the latest wave of social and economic protests that swept Tunisia, the president Zine el Abidine ben Ali sacked members of the government and the governor of Sidi Bouzid province because of negligence, observed the London-based newspaper Al Quds al Arabi in its editorial. Yet solving the problem requires rather comprehensive political and economic reforms.

This is the core of the issue. The southern provinces were the epicentre of the latest tumult. They have always received less development funds compared to other parts of the country. The population there also complained about discrimination in employment in senior positions and highlighted cases of social injustice.

Although Mr ben Ali ordered an urgent $15 million fund to create jobs for the unemployed in the most affected province of Sidi Bouzid, this needs to be followed by bolder steps to address corruption and expand freedoms by allowing various political elites to take part in political life.

As highlighted by many international groups, including Reporters Without Borders, the opposition suffers harassment and repression. Many journalists and human rights activists have been arrested and imprisoned. The most prominent lesson yet that can be drawn from these protests is that strict media censorship has failed, thanks to information technology, in controlling information that has reached the public.


Turkey lives with a double-edged policy

In an opinion piece for the Emirati daily Al Khaleej, Saad Mehio expected that the Turkish government led by The Justice and Development Party (AKP) would go further in its ambitious plan to introduce more constitutional changes this year.

Yet the task will not be made any easier by the conservative military establishment's stubborn stance against more democratic reforms that are likely to restrict its power.

The AKP may also face opposition from the so-called "white Turks", who are considered ultra-secular extremists. Yet the internal political debate is less likely to affect Ankara's foreign policy, which has been engineered by Ahmet Davutoglu, the minister of foreign affairs.

Under this approach, Turkey has strengthened its bonds with countries in the Middle East, and as far as South East Asia and China, a policy that has earned Ankara both strategic and economic gains. It is now the top trade partner to Iran and the focal point of a new economic group that comprises Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, with Iraq as a prospective member.

Despite accumulated successes, the prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will face greater challenges at home and internationally to keep the same pace. Most importantly, he has to pursue internal reform plans, but at the same time stay open to his European partners.


US needs to honour its political promises

In an opinion article in the Kuwaiti newspaper Al Jareeda, Saleh al Qallab described the US stance towards the Israeli settlement policies as confusing.

While Washington is opposed to obstacles that Israel puts in the way of peace, it threatens to veto any UN motion to sanction Israel on this matter.

The US also defends the two-state solution, but it has barely taken any practical initiatives in this direction. It once also called on the Palestinians not to enter into direct talks with the Israelis until they freeze settlements, yet they failed to persuade the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Nethanyahu to retreat from his extremist policies.

What is more, the US president Barack Obama, in contradiction to what he announced during his presidential campaign and in his speech in Cairo, said his administration would be against any move by Arabs to approach the UN Security Council for a final settlement.

The continuous US failure to persuade Israel to comply with the peace requirements may rather feed terror, which Washington is supposed to combat. The US is also supposed to seize the opportunity of wide international support for establishing an independent Palestinian state to put more pressure on the Israelis. It should help to issue a UN Security Council resolution to condemn settlements as a first step to resume the peace process.


Issues to appear in new year's agenda

"It is true that 2010 was not a fantastic year, although it has ended in less fear. It was a peaceful year, but with some big disappointments," noted Abdul Rahman al Rashed in a commentary for the pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al Awsat. Almost no major issue saw progress as had formerly been expected. No breakthrough has been achieved regarding the Iranian nuclear programme and the Palestinian cause.

Iraqi elections, however, were held peacefully, and their results were more positive than expected.

The only confrontation this year took place unusually along the borders of one of the countries that is most keen to preserve peace: Saudi Arabia. Riyadh was militarily engaged in the south to combat an Yemeni rebel groups which intended to sow terror farther north.

Al Qa'eda was ambitious in 2010 as its plans targeted larger areas across the globe from Saudi Arabia to sub-Saharan Africa to the US. Yet it was less successful after most of its major operations were foiled.

The new year will have to fulfil the backlog of the preceding one. The Iranian issue will again be in the spotlight, while the Palestinian cause might witness a U-turn, as Israel  has apparently exhausted its manoeuvres.