The international furor over US withdrawal from the environmental agreement is obscuring genuinely significant developments in our region.
In several previous columns I have emphasized important news and developments that have been largely overlooked due to the acrid smokescreen of nasty twaddle from the left and right attempting to demonize the other side, especially in the US and Europe.
The outpouring of violent condemnation of President Trump’s decision to begin the process of withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord obscuring much more important news, is a good example of that phenomenon. The president’s decision is news, of course, but it is not nearly as significant as other recent developments. In the first place nothing happens for three years starting from last November. At that time the decision must be formally reiterated and the actual withdrawal will occur one year after that! During this almost four-year period the US continues to be subject to all the provisions of the Accord. Trump himself can change his mind during that time and his successor, if Trump is not reelected or doesn’t run for reelection, can restore US participation should he/she so desire. By November of 2020 it will be abundantly clear whether in fact the no. 1 polluter, China, is adhering to the Paris commitments, something by no means certain. Finally, US states and municipalities can opt for regionally or locally applying the measures outlined in the Accord, as many have done or said they will do. In short, not very significant news.
In the meantime, largely overlooked in the fog surrounding the Paris Accords decision, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have once again applied the screws to Qatar, forcing it to expel the Hamas officials it has been protecting. The Saudis and Emiratis forced the current emir’s father to abdicate in his favor expecting a fundamental shift in Qatari policies towards Iran and terrorist groups as a result, but their expectation has not been fulfilled. They are once again turning the screws. It would appear that the maverick emirate’s days of regional and international support of extremism are reaching their end. Given Qatar’s financial resources and its control of the highly effective propaganda outlet, Al Jazeera, this is good and significant news indeed.
Also of great significance are various steps taken by the admirable al-Sisi regime in Egypt. Along with previous measures, including replacing primary and secondary school textbooks removing praise of terrorism and extolling anti-semitism as well as forcing local imams to read sermons sent to them from Cairo, also void of praise of violent jihad and terrorism, further steps have now been taken. In response to terrorist actions targeting Coptic Christian communities, the Egyptian air force has attacked terrorist bases in Libya. To reiterate: use of an Arab air force to retaliate for attacks on a Christian community. Read that sentence twice.
Even more startling, because even more unexpected, is the announcement that for the first time in its thousand-year history, Al-Azhar University, the most prestigious Sunni Islamic higher educational center, has admitted a non-Muslim to its faculty in the medical school. In its astonishment quota, this can only be compared to J-Street electing a pro-Israel president (don’t hold your breath). President al-Sisi told the Al-Azhar authorities that they had to bring the institution into the contemporary world and stop being a bastion of medieval thought and action. Perhaps his words, or more likely threats to withdraw government funding, are having their effect.
The atmospheric climate may or may not be changing but the political and social climate in the Arab world certainly is.
This article was originally published in Globes.