Editorial: Qatar should honor pledges

Editorial: Qatar should honor pledges
Updated 06 March 2014

Editorial: Qatar should honor pledges

Editorial: Qatar should honor pledges

It is extremely sad that the Kingdom, the UAE and Bahrain feel they have had to recall their ambassadors in Qatar but it is clear that they had little alternative.
Qatar is a member of the GCC. As such it is supposed to do its utmost to ensure the security and safety of its fellow members.
It is not doing so.
On Nov. 23, last year, the GCC countries signed a joint security agreement in Riyadh calling for all six member states to abide by the principles that there should be no direct or indirect meddling in regional affairs, or backing of any party that threatens regional security and stability, whether they are organizations or individuals, and whether that meddling was through direct security operations or through attempts for political influence. It also said no member should back hostile media outlets.
Having signed the agreement, Qatar refuses to implement it. Instead it continues to allow its media, especially Al-Jazeera, to air attacks on the UAE, and criticism of Saudi Arabia as well.
For all the claims otherwise, everyone knows that Al-Jazeera operates by the grace and favor of Doha. If the authorities there do not want something said, it does not say it. If they do, it does.
The situation have been difficult enough if the country were a far-off place with no special links to the UAE, Saudi Arabia or Bahrain. But Qatar is not only a neighbor of all three with the closest cultural and social bonds, it is also, as pointed out, a member of the GCC. It is intolerable and wholly unacceptable for it to behave the way it has done. It ignores its duties and responsibilities as a Council member. It ignores the pledges it made last November.
Faced with the withdrawal, Qatar now ignores the issues involved. Its Council of Minister says the Saudi-Bahraini-Emirati decision has nothing to do with the interests or the security and stability of the Gulf nations, but due to differences of opinion taken on issues outside the Gulf states.
It is certainly true that Qatar is marching out of step with the rest of the GCC in relation to events in Egypt and Syria, busily backing the Muslim Brotherhood. But this response is nothing less than deliberate fantasy. The UAE has made abundantly clear to Qatar its position over the attacks against it by Egyptian-born cleric Yusuf Al-Qaradawi. It formally protested a month ago. Doha has done nothing to address the issue.
It clearly could not continue. That is why the three neighbors took the decision to pull the ambassadors.
It is no knee-jerk reaction and is done with the greatest reluctance. But it sends a necessary message to Doha that it cannot ride roughshod over its partners’ concerns.
The issue is in fact bigger than Qatar’s reneging on the November joint security agreement, crucial though it is. The question for Doha is this: Where do its loyalties lie? To its neighbors and partners who are also its extended family and friends? Or to foreign policy adventures in Egypt and Syria?
Sadly, this is not the first time that Saudi Arabia has recalled its ambassador to Qatar, which, of course, is not the same as breaking relations. In 2002, Riyadh did because, in what outwardly appears a similar case, there had been anti-Saudi comments by dissidents on Al Jazeera. But it is more serious this time. It is not about a bilateral matter, it is about Qatar’s relationship with its allies and Qatar not sticking to its promises.
The hope has to be that having ignored behind-the-scenes diplomacy, this sad but necessary statement of exasperation with its refusal to implement the Riyadh agreement will change hearts and minds in Doha. The agreement has to be honored in the letter and in spirit.
A continued refusal to do so will inevitably bring into question Qatar’s commitment to the GCC. That would be disastrous for all involved, Qatar as well as the other five. No one wants that to happen. Not Saudi Arabia, not the UAE, not Bahrain, not Kuwait, which is trying to see if it can mediate a solution, not Oman, and almost certainly not Qatar. But that is the reality. Qatar has to understand that in continuing on its present political course it damages the GCC’s unity and, in damaging that, damages the organization’s development and the interests of all member states, its own included.


Editorial: Iran must not go unpunished

Editorial: Iran must not go unpunished
Updated 16 May 2019

Editorial: Iran must not go unpunished

Editorial: Iran must not go unpunished
  • Arab News argues that while war is always a last resort, an international response is a must to curb Iranian meddling
  • US strikes worked well when Assad used chemical weapons against his people

The attacks on Tuesday by armed drones on Saudi oil-pumping stations, and two days beforehand on oil tankers off the coast of Fujairah in the UAE, represent a serious escalation on the part of Iran and its proxies, should the initial conclusions of an international investigation prove to be accurate. 

Riyadh has constantly warned world leaders of the dangers that Iran poses, not only to Saudi Arabia and the region, but also to the entire world. This is something former President Obama did not realize until the Iran-backed Houthis attacked the US Navy three times in late 2016. The recent attacks on oil tankers and oil pipelines were aimed at subverting the world economy by hitting directly at the lifeline of today’s world of commerce. Tehran should not get away with any more intimidation, or be allowed to threaten global stability. 

It was in 2008 that the late King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz called upon the US to “cut off the head of the snake,” in reference to the malign activities of Iran. Nearly a decade later, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman referred to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as the “new Hitler of the Middle East.” We are in 2019 and Iran continues to wreak havoc in the region, both directly and through its well armed proxies. Crown Prince Mohammed was therefore clearly correct when he argued that appeasement does not work with the Iranian regime, just as it did not work with Hitler. The next logical step — in this newspaper’s view — should be surgical strikes. The US has set a precedent, and it had a telling effect: The Trump strikes on Syria when the Assad regime used Sarin gas against its people.

We argue this because it is clear that sanctions are not sending the right message. If the Iranian regime were not too used to getting away with their crimes, they would have taken up the offer from President Trump to get on the phone and call him in order to reach a deal that would be in the best interests of the Iranian people themselves. As the two recent attacks indicate, the Iranians insist on disrupting the flow of energy around the world, putting the lives of babies in incubators at risk, threatening hospitals and airports, attacking civilian ships and putting innocent lives in danger. As the case always is with the Iranian leadership, they bury their heads in the sand and pretend that they have done nothing. Nevertheless, investigations indicate that they were behind the attack on our brothers in the UAE while their Houthi militias targeted the Saudi pipelines.

Our point of view is that they must be hit hard. They need to be shown that the circumstances are now different. We call for a decisive, punitive reaction to what happened so that Iran knows that every single move they make will have consequences. The time has come for Iran not only to curb its nuclear weapon ambitions — again in the world’s interest — but also for the world to ensure that they do not have the means to support their terror networks across the region. 

We respect the wise and calm approach of politicians and diplomats calling for investigations to be completed and all other options to be exhausted before heading to war. In the considered view of this newspaper, there has to be deterrent and punitive action in order for Iran to know that no sinister act will go unpunished; that action, in our opinion, should be a calculated surgical strike.


Editorial: Two thumbs up, Mr. Trump

Editorial: Two thumbs up, Mr. Trump
US President Donald Trump speaks during the Arabic Islamic American Summit at the King Abdulaziz Conference Center in Riyadh on Sunday. (SPA)
Updated 05 June 2017

Editorial: Two thumbs up, Mr. Trump

Editorial: Two thumbs up, Mr. Trump

There was one topic that dominated the lobby of the Riyadh Marriott, where the media center for the Arab-Islamic-American Summit was set up: US President Donald Trump’s speech. Journalists from the Middle East, and those flying in from the US, seemed to all have the same question in the back of their mind: How bad would Trump’s speech be, considering his controversial pre-election rhetoric?
Not only did last night’s speech silence most critics — in this region at least — but it made it very clear that Trump will do what he thinks is right, no matter how harshly he is made to look like he is contradicting himself back home.
What matters to this part of the world is that we feared a president who would seek to divide us, but got one who last night talked about unity and how standing together will ensure we do not fail. We feared a president we were led to believe hates our values and culture, but we got one who sipped our coffee, joined us in sword dancing and told us last night that the US is not here to impose its way of life, but to offer us a helping hand if we choose to take it.
We thought that when Trump said “America First,” he meant we would be neglected and left to our misery. But it is his predecessor Barack Obama who did that when he opted to lecture and profess instead of adhering to his own red line when Syrian President Bashar Assad used chemical weapons against his own people.
What did Trump do? He fired back in less than 48 hours, and attacked a Syrian regime convoy a few days ago to make sure nobody thinks his administration is messing around. Trump is now off to Israel, and while he deserves two thumbs up for his Riyadh speech, all eyes will be on his negotiation skills to see if he can deliver what Obama and his other predecessors failed to achieve: A peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians.


Editorial: For the sake of humanity, Russia!

Editorial: For the sake of humanity, Russia!
Russian Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations Vladimir Safronkov listens during a meeting of the United Nations Security Council at U.N. headquarters, on Wednesday in New York City. (AFP)
Updated 06 April 2017

Editorial: For the sake of humanity, Russia!

Editorial: For the sake of humanity, Russia!

The horrible images coming out of Khan Sheikhun in Syria’s northern province of Idlib are both shocking and mind-numbing. The pictures of lifeless little ones in the arms of their parents and relatives are heart-breaking.
No words can describe this and other horrors that have been visited upon the innocent people of Syria by an inhuman and murderous regime.
This is not the first time the Bashar Assad regime has used chemical weapons against its own people. Nor most likely is it the last. The first time these weapons of mass destruction were used was in August 2013 in Ghouta.
The Assad regime was not held accountable for that, despite tough talk from the then-US President Barack Obama.
In contrast this time, the world seems united in its condemnation of the regime’s barbarous and abominable act. Nonetheless, there is one country that continues to stand by a dictator whose appetite for blood-letting and killing does not seem to have been slaked even now.
Russia maintains the attack came from opposition fighters. There is, however, clear evidence to the contrary. The attack was, according to the evidence, the result of an aerial bombing and only the regime has aircraft. The opposition has none.
It defies logic and good sense as to why Russia would stand on the wrong side of history. How many more Syrians need to die for the calculations in Moscow to change? More than 400,000 have died in the war and more than 5 million have been uprooted from their land and scattered to countries far and near.
The chemical attack is — as US President Donald Trump rightly said — an affront to humanity.
There has been far too much dilly-dallying at the UN. For much too long, the fate of Syrians has been held hostage to the deadly game of Russian roulette. The business of the veto must stop. And with it, the dance of death in Syria can also be stopped.
Russia must, for the sake of humanity, join the world in stopping the devil in Damascus from raining more death and destruction upon innocent people. 

 


Editorial: The stars are aligned for cinema in Saudi Arabia

Editorial: The stars are aligned for cinema in Saudi Arabia
The Saudi Film Festival in Dhahran was a huge success.
Updated 08 April 2017

Editorial: The stars are aligned for cinema in Saudi Arabia

Editorial: The stars are aligned for cinema in Saudi Arabia

A Saudi film festival concluded a few days ago in the Eastern Province of the Kingdom. In what was a magnificent display of local creativity and an appreciation of the beautiful art of movie-making, local producers, directors, actors and film fans all got together and enjoyed the wonders of the big screen together.
More importantly, the festival served as a reminder that Saudis — like anyone else in the world — can enjoy the magic of motion pictures and experience the thrills and chills of public screenings without any issues.
Of course, this was not the first festival of its kind in the Kingdom; such events have been organized more frequently over the past few years. However, there is no escaping the obvious question: If Saudis and foreigners can enjoy films at these local festivals, then why can’t the Kingdom simply open up public movie theaters, where both locally produced films as well as selected Hollywood blockbusters can be shown?
The ban on cinema in Saudi Arabia is a complicated matter. Technically, there is no law or religious edict (fatwa) that prohibits it and the disappearance of movie theaters (which used to exist up to the 1970s in some Saudi cities) is known to be a recent matter which crept its way into society.
This was possibly based on the “ijtihad” of some overzealous elements and the negligence of officials who may have not seen the matter as a priority... after all, to many people cinema is merely a pastime.
Could there have been an element of media control at that time as well? Possibly... although that argument, if it ever existed, was shredded to bits with the introduction of satellite television in the early 1990s and the Internet a decade later.
Yet today’s Saudi Arabia is incomparable with that of 1980s or 1990s. In fact, the pace of change occurring in the Kingdom is so fast that it is even incomparable to the Saudi Arabia of two years ago!
Yes, there are still plenty of social issues to fix. However, one cannot ignore that in the past six months alone, we have seen live concerts, mixed audiences, visit of Hollywood stars, the Kingdom’s first ever Comic-Con and more art galleries and film activities than perhaps ever before.
Naturally, credit needs to be given where credit is due, and the newly-formed and government-backed General Authority for Entertainment certainly deserves a round of applause for all its efforts to bring joy, laughter and magical moments to the Kingdom and paint a bright future which awaits us within Vision 2030.
Will there be those who are unhappy with a decision to re-open movie theaters? Of course there will be. However, nobody will be forcing them to change their mind or watch a film if they don’t choose to. We must remember that there were also those who opposed schools for girls and if it wasn’t for the late King Faisal and his stern and decisive approach to the matter in the 1960s, women’s education might have been delayed for decades.
Will there be a security risk of having people together in a public arena? Of course there will be. But would that be any more dangerous than attending a football match or flying on a plane?
On the other hand, we need only think of how such a step would allow a wider slice of society to be empowered, cultivated and exposed to this beautiful art form (not everyone can afford to fly to Dubai, Cairo or London to watch a film). Furthermore, we will be creating jobs and a brand new industry, not just for local filmmakers, but for everyone from ticket-booth attendants to ushers and everyone else in the supply-chain of the movie-going business.
We do hope to see cinemas opening soon; after all, the stars could not be any more aligned than they are now.


Editorial: Saudi budget 2017: short-term pain, long-term gain

Editorial: Saudi budget 2017: short-term pain, long-term gain
Updated 07 March 2017

Editorial: Saudi budget 2017: short-term pain, long-term gain

Editorial: Saudi budget 2017: short-term pain, long-term gain

Saudi Arabia’s 2017 budget, announced today, will include some tough decisions which neither nationals nor expats living in the Kingdom are used to nor will find easy.
However, with the ongoing oil price crisis, Riyadh — which until today still relies mostly on the energy economy — had only one of two options: Fight or flight.
Rather than burying its head in the sand, praying for solutions and exhausting its reserves, the government opted for the more difficult of the two choices: To fight.
Believing that the best time to introduce reforms is when your back is against the wall, the Saudi leadership earlier this year announced an ambitious, yet undoubtedly challenging, set of reforms under the umbrella of Vision 2030. It was an overarching initiative spearheaded by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is head of the Kingdom’s Council of Economic and Development Affairs (CEDA).
Many Saudis believe in the vision and value its importance, particularly given that it was crafted after a series of focus groups and workshops, which included many representatives of the country’s population. However, there were those — mostly people who benefit from the status quo — who sought to brush off the reforms as either unattainable or unnecessary.
Of course, there is no question that, over at least the next two years, the majority will suffer from a financial pinch — and the criticism of the reform plans will now undoubtedly increase.
After all, citizens and residents of the oil-rich Kingdom are not used to paying a higher rate for energy prices; and of course, the impact does not stop there, as the domino effect will also mean price increases for goods and services; many of which will soon also be subject to a value-added tax (VAT).
Expats working in the Kingdom, who also began paying a higher rate on their entry/exit visas this year, will also be subjected to paying fees for as long as they work in Saudi Arabia. However, these fees are minimal and are in no way comparable those levied in the US or European countries, where not only a hefty income tax (reaching 50 percent in some cases) applies, but also taxes on energy, water, municipality or council services, property transactions, inheritance and even TV licenses.
Yet to say that these Saudi reforms were not necessary is simply ignorant. Numbers Arab News has reviewed with senior government officials over the past few days demonstrate a real “doomsday scenario” within less than five years if such reforms were not introduced as quickly as they have been.
The good news is that the 2017 budget, and the government’s budget-balancing act it aims to achieve by 2020, has assumed only the worst-case scenario. Things will be ever rosier if positive factors come to pass, such as the imminent oil output deal, and the eagerly-anticipated Saudi Aramco initial public offering.
We should not neglect to mention that the price hikes are going to be introduced alongside a generous government assistance program, the aim of which is twofold. It will both help Saudis on low incomes cope with the increased rates, while at the same time attempt to limit waste and rectify bad habits by offering incentives to citizens who cut down on their energy and water consumption.
The measures announced today come with a whole set of commitments designed so that the people of the Kingdom will begin seeing the results as soon as possible, and that a budgetary balance is achieved by 2020, paving the way for a sustainable economic future.
First and foremost, Riyadh has pledged full transparency on its projects and spending. Now, while some might be wary of Saudi Arabia’s dealing with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the reality is what better “seal of approval” could the economy get than working with the IMF and other such internationally-trusted entities?
What is interesting is that the pledge of being transparent is not only directed outwards, but inwards as well; even though the government does not actually have to make such promises. Among the reforms it intends to introduce is a public record detailing the achievements, KPIs and spending of different ministries and entities.
Will this succeed? Well, there have been many Saudi projects which were announced and never delivered; however, the majority of the ones that were fruitful had one thing in common: The involvement of the head of state himself.
A few days ago, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman addressed Saudi Arabia’s Shoura Council and made it clear he is fully supportive of the reforms. He was also the first to subscribe to full transparency when it comes to the reality of what the various economic reforms will entail. As he said earlier this year, they “might be painful in the short run but ultimately aim to protect the economy from worse problems.”