x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Obama, Palestine and history

A daily round-up of news, comment and opinion from publications in the region.

No American president has ever raised such a huge wave of hope as did Barack Obama after his election as president of the United States of America, wrote Mohammed Khalaf in an opinion piece published by the Saudi Arabic daily Al Watan. Yet, we must not forget that one man's will cannot change established institutions, no matter how iconic the man is.   No doubt the day he was elected as the first black president of the world's number one superpower, Barack Obama had already entered history, but he is expected by many to leave a mark by his actions. Hence the hopes at home, where millions are looking forward to a more equitable health-care system; in Iraq, for the withdrawal of US forces; in Africa, where his roots lie; in Europe, where he is expected to end years of US hegemony and unilateral decisions and be more open to collaboration on hot issues; and in Cuba, where dialogue has been shunned for more than half a century.   

In the Middle East, for the first time, the prospects for peace and a two-state solution suddenly seem with reach.  Today, Arabs, and particularly Palestinians, are wondering what will be Mr Obama's next move in the Middle East and to what extent he will be able to liberate himself from the pro-Israel lobby groups in the US. He is at a crossroads and his rendezvous with history starts precisely in Palestine.

In order to close a dark page of American history, the US administration has authorised the release of confidential torture documents related to the interrogations of terror suspects by the CIA under the Bush administration, wrote Abdelazhim Hanafi in the Kuwaiti newspaper Al Seyassah. The documents provoked a series of reactions that made the White House lose control over the issue. Human rights groups abroad and at home want those responsible for approving such interrogation methods to face justice, while the former US vice-president Dick Cheney demands the release of further documents which prove that the same methods served to save innocent lives. 

The documents proved to be full of surprises, both in terms of the extent of the extreme methods used and those involved. The US president Barack Obama is under growing pressure to hold accountable all those involved in the torture process and order an independent investigation.   The former president George W Bush is deeply involved, which raises questions on whether he will end up in jail or be granted immunity, along with his senior aides. 

The investigation's course is now open, although Mr Obama seemed reluctant at first to accept the justice department's decision. No one can predict where the investigation will lead for Bush and his collaborators.

The French authorities have requested airlines worldwide to provide security personnel in France with information on Algerian passengers headed to French airports prior to their flights, wrote Ali Djerri in the Algerian daily Al Khabar. The information requested is not only that customarily submitted when entering any airport in the world, such as the name, date of birth, address and passport number, but more precise data on the trip, hotel, host, mode of payment and other personal details that should be of no concern to the French security services. The measure is part of the fight against terrorism, which means all Algerians are terrorist suspects for the French authorities until they prove their innocence. 

All Algerian nationals are henceforth in a situation of judiciary probation and under the close control of the French security services. Meanwhile, the Algerian authorities are "annoyed" with such measures, as they say in the diplomatic jargon. And this is unofficial, because the official position is that relations between Algeria and France are better than ever and in constant development. Diplomatic language should not be used to justify humiliation. The only word that can be used to describe this passive stance is "cowardice", motivated by the fear of losing personal interests and privileges.

The western media have always served up a mix of news, rumours and fancy gossip to sell newspapers and magazines, but they have boasted so far that there was one place for hoaxes and sensational news, coated with lies and mingled with imagination, and that is the infamous page six, wrote Nawaf al Thani in the Qatari daily Al Raya. The practice is so widespread that editors and readers alike describe any political rumour or jetset gossip as a "content for page six".

However, in a time of economic crisis, major newspapers and magazines have transformed all their pages into a "page six" to sell copies. Sources have lost credibility and readers trust. Among the "weird" sources used by today's media are personal websites whose owners are not identified.    Many might argue that this is not new in the world of media, but it has become hard to segregate serious media from tabloid.

Of course, we are not saying that all western media have turned tabloid, but the trend is spreading alarmingly and has invaded the Arab media too. Newspapers fail when they only record undeniable facts, but the fear is that they have all become "page six content". * Digest compiled by Mohamed Naji mnaji@thenational.ae