Voices from the Arab press: The dictator Mark Zuckerberg



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Al-Arabiya, Saudi Arabia, October 16

The strange thing about Facebook is: the more scandals it involves, the more its followers fall in love with it. It doesn’t seem like Facebook account owners who know their privacy is being breached, exploited and blackmailed feel the need to punish the perpetrator when they are able to.

However, things may change after the release of the documents leaked by former Facebook engineer Frances Haugen, as well as Haugen’s testimony to the U.S. Congress about the manipulation of content by the platform’s algorithms. Democrats and Republicans seem more willing to condemn Facebook.

American tech giants, once a symbol of America’s indomitable and incomparable liberalism and embodiment of the wonders of creativity, now appear like vicious tools used to manipulate innocent civilians’ minds and steal information.

The first slap in the face came in 2018 when UK newspaper The Guardian revealed that the data and personal information Cambridge Analytica is using to influence the US elections and help Donald Trump come to power are fully supported received from Facebook, contrary to what the company had claimed.

In this illustration dated September 24, 2021, a 3D printed Facebook logo is shown on a keyboard in front of the binary code. (Credit: REUTERS / DADO RUVIC / ILLUSTRATION)

Then came another scandal over Russia’s meddling in US politics through advertising aimed at voters. And although Mark Zuckerberg himself testified before Congress, nothing changed. Back then, the manipulation was in favor of Trump, who was in the White House, so the US administration had an interest in dropping the issue.

Then came another shock when Facebook and Twitter suspended President Trump’s accounts following the violent events on Capitol Hill. This marked the first time the western world finally got a taste for its own medicine and realized that Facebook regularly censors opinions. The same people who stood by when Facebook silenced the voices of the masses during the Arab Spring, who ignored Facebook’s systematic removal of testimonies from defenseless Palestinians under Israeli bombardment, now realized that they too could become Facebook’s next victims.

America is at least 15 years late to end Facebook’s violations, some of the most dangerous for democracy and freedom of expression in the world today. There is no democracy without transparency and accountability, and Facebook lacks both.

This is also our problem in the Arab world, where every election turns out to be the re-election of the same corrupt votes to power. We never learn our lesson.

Zuckerberg can be classified as the greatest dictator in the world. He has no armored vehicles, ICBMs, and submarines roaming the seas, but he controls the minds of more than a third of the world’s population. He can control their secrets, manipulate their moods and, in many cases, determine their fate. – Sawsan al-Abtah


Asharq al-Awsat, London, October 14th

Well done Iraq! This was the phrase that came to mind after the successful conclusion of the largest parliamentary elections in Iraq, which took place without a single incident.

These congratulations seemed deserved for several reasons.

First, the elections – the fifth since the liberation of Iraq in 2003 – show that the process of transition to democracy is still very much alive and well, despite the political setbacks the Iraqi people have experienced.

These elections also reaffirmed the invaluable consensus reached among Iraqis from across the political spectrum that only through democratic elections is it legitimate to gain and take power. The era of gaining or losing power through rebellions, military coups, street riots, foreign invasions or assassinations is finally over in Iraq.

Since parliament is the only channel for the exercise of the people’s power, the results of the elections will determine who becomes president and prime minister. Furthermore, due to a proportional representation system, no sect, party or group can obtain a monopoly over all state institutions.

In a country that suffered from a brutal one-party system for decades, elections today have the healing power of unity in diversity. The very fact that elections were held is cause for celebration.

The big players, including some foreign players and power-drunk political barons, did everything to prevent these elections. For months, the official media of the Islamic Republic of Iran spoke out against early elections in Iraq.

And when it became clear that the electoral process was still going to take place, Tehran began to influence the outcome. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei donated $ 200 million from the National Emergency Fund to help the Tehran Foreign Legion, which operates in many countries in the region, bring the Quds Force, their Iraqi deputies, back to power.

The Tehran media dubbed the Iraqi elections “Qasem Soleimani’s elections,” implicitly suggesting that Iraqi voters will justify the general’s death by voting strongly for his local agents.

With Iraqis living abroad unable to vote this time around, the Quds Force organized daily drives for an unknown number of dual nationals living in Iran, some of whom have lived in Iran for decades, to vote for the Quds Force candidates.

As the results showed, however, the performance of Tehran’s election workers was worse than anyone could have imagined. It is worth noting that the militia-dominated bloc led by Hadi al-Amiri has lost 35 of its 50 seats. The biggest winner from the Shiite side was the splinter block Moqtada al-Sadr, which called for arms ownership to be restricted to the state. In other words, the people voted to disband the Iran-controlled militias.

In recent days, Iranian media have sought solace in the fact that former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki managed to stay in the game, calling it a victory for “the path of the martyr Soleimani”.

Still, Maliki, although always close to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, was never a patron of Soleimani, simply because Soleimani was intolerant of anyone with self-esteem.

On the other hand, we find that Soleimani’s ideal servant is Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, who, according to Soleimani’s only lengthy interview, “would not have drunk any water without consulting us”.

In order to contain the impact of the Iraqi elections, the Iranian official media also focused on the issue of “low turnout”. In fact, the last election attracted only 43% of registered voters, a point or two less than the previous one. However, the official media in Tehran quickly dropped the issue as it reminded of a lower turnout in the recent Iranian presidential election.

In addition, the recent elections in Iraq had other interesting aspects. This is the first election of its kind, held in 83 districts instead of 18 large districts. The new rule allows voters to vote for individual candidates rather than providing lists of party coalitions. The use of biometric cards also helped prevent organized fraud.

The fact that a large number of candidates, around 3,500, ran for the 329 seats underscores the continuing appeal of the democratic process to a growing segment of Iraqi citizens. The largest number of young activists, women and independent individuals to date were among those who took part in the elections.

It is clear that a new generation of Iraqi politicians is taking shape. The fact that the young activists who represented street demonstrators before the COVID-19 crisis won more than 8% of the seats could indicate the emergence of new trends in Iraqi politics.

The results also suggest that the former exiles and dual nationals, who until recently dominated the political scene in Baghdad, are being marginalized more quickly.

Last week, the Iranian media described the Iraqi elections as “the first test for General Esmail Ghaani,” the lackluster bureaucrat who replaced the pompous Soleimani. Well, Qaani came out with the loss he deserved. As for Soleimani who was murdered in Baghdad, his ghost now witnesses death for the second time in a row. – Amir Taheri

Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb.

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