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London Calling – Arab Expatriates Write About The Middle East

January 29, 2011

I frequently refer to stories in the Bahraini and Saudi media. But Asharq Al-Awsat provides an interesting counterpoint to local voices. It has been published in London for over thirty years. Although Saudi-owned, it’s by no means a mouthpiece for the Saudi state. It does tend to steer clear of subjects that might cause embarrassment to its proprietors, but since it has a pan-Arab focus, it has plenty of scope to publish interesting and provocative stories from across the Arab World.

The English-language website – Asharq Al-Awsat publishes the newspaper in Arabic – is full of thought-provoking articles. Some of them are a little convoluted, perhaps because they are translations from the original Arabic, but nonetheless worth reading.

Here are three examples.

Al-Sadr fled to Iran due to assassination fears is a story by Ma’ad Fayad about Moqtada Sadr, one of the major players in the Iraqi political landscape. Apparently Moqtada, having returned to Iraq two weeks ago with great fanfare, has gone back to his former base in Qom, Iran. The reason for his abrupt return was the threat of assassination by the Asib Ahl Al-Haq group that used to be a part of his Mahdi Army. Moqtada Sadr receives political support from Iran. Asib Ahl Al-Haq receives economic and logistic support from Iran. Yet the one is threatening the death of the other! Stranger still, Fayad reports that Moqtada is thinking of seeking refuge in Lebanon – presumably in the warm embrace of Hezbollah, yet another client of Iran.

The story gives a fascinating insight into the tangled web of factions within Iraq and Iran. When looking at both countries, the big picture might be clear, but the devil is definitely in the detail.

The second piece is a guided tour of the woes of the Arab nation by Osman Mirghhani. The whole article, Why is the Arab World Drowning? is here. Speaking about morale in the Arab world, he says:

Frustrated by the state of affairs, the Arab citizen is filled with suppressed rage at the deplorable situation, and also at failing to make his voice heard. He feels defeated by the state of weakness and submission that has caused the Arabs to feel powerless and humiliated, in view of the prevailing state of fragmentation, rivalry and tension. There is a lack of Arab consensus, a lack of confidence, as well as a notable, rising sectarian tone.

And here is Amer Taheri, one of the doyens of Middle Eastern journalism, talking about Tunisia:

…..I never believed that Tunisia’s failure to emulate the Mediterranean model of political development, as in Spain, Portugal Greece and Malta, was due to any single dictator.

What is needed is a campaign against the little dictator that resides within almost every Tunisian.

Bourguiba and Ben Ali could not have sustained half a century of dictatorship on their own.

Who commanded and manned their armies, police forces and security services? Who served as their ministers and ambassadors? Who filled all those newspaper columns with their praises? Who helped them amass and manage their fortunes? Who painted all those ghastly portraits of the dictator, and who stuck them on the walls of every shop in Tunis? Who were the tens of thousands of people who turned up each time they were asked to demonstrate in favour of the dictator? And what about the millions who, for 54 years, voted in one fake election after another?

Taheri’s full article, Tunisia, and Caesar’s Boots in Winter is here.

The voices of Asharq Al-Awsat speak volumes about the current trials and tribulations of the Arab World. Even if you’re a casual observer of events in the region, the newspaper’s website is well worth a visit.

From → Middle East, Politics

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