"Iran's decision to build ten uranium enrichment plants means that Tehran has reached advanced levels that can enable it to build a nuclear bomb. By doing this, Iran has opted for escalating the scope of the controversy," noted Tariq Alhomayed in an opinion piece for the London-based daily Al Sharq al Awsat. The Iranian approach came as a reaction to the International Atomic Agency, which condemned the lack of co-operation by the Iranians. "In this context, it is possible to say that the very legitimacy of the whole regime now stands on the nuclear programme. It is difficult for Iran to waive its nuclear ambitions while it is in the middle of a deep internal crisis."
Some contend that the Iranians have purposefully pushed into this direction, believing that the West and especially the Americans will not be able to engage in a military action because of the present economic conditions in addition to the US situation in Iraq and Afghanistan. "All these interpretations can be true but the question arises: Does that mean the Iranians are in a stronger position now? I do not think so. What is clear is that the Iranians are thrown into utter confusion." It is true that the US president Barack Obama was a bit lenient with the Iranians in the past, but he can change strategy any time now. If that happens, tough sanctions can be taken against Tehran.
Soon, a GCC summit will be held in Kuwait to address the issue of a free-trade agreement with the European Union (EU) at the top of its agenda, wrote Abdel Nabi al Akri in a comment article for the Bahraini newspaper Al Wasat. The last GCC-EU negotiations took place in Muscat in October when both parties reached a stalemate. "The most important obstacles toward reaching an agreement from the GCC's standpoint relates to three points. First, the EU is sensitive to human rights issues, tending to gauge them according to European values, irrespective of the Gulf's specific local cultures. Second, the EU insists on imposing high tariffs on oil, gas and other petrochemicals imports on quotational basis. Third, the EU desires to see the agreement include a role for non-government organisations."
Meanwhile, the EU has maintained its reservations on human rights issues, the role of civil society and the proposal for a gradual reduction of tariffs on oil and gas imports from GCC countries. The EU would like to reproduce terms similar to the ones underlying the euro-Mediterranean partnership. These obstacles should not prevent both parties from being engaged in active economic relations, yet they will continue to be a stumbling block to conclude a free-trade agreement in the foreseeable future.
"It is not true that Jeddah floods were caused by the slums that have besieged the city for years. Several of the districts that sank under water are not substandard areas, but rather new construction developments that were built with loans from the Real Estate Development Fund," wrote Khalaf al Harbi in an opinion piece for the Kuwaiti newspaper Al Jarida. "And even if we accept the premise of the slums, their mushrooming was the result of a monopoly over the residential land plots across the city. A large proportion of low income people were forced to stay in slums as they were unable to obtain a house elsewhere."
A statement by the Jeddah mayor was astonishing: more than 70 per cent of the city districts are without a sewage system. "It is hard to believe this is happening in one of the most important urban areas in the Middle East. "Huge budgets that were supposed to finance Jeddah's infrastructure were frequently embezzled; and even though many attempts were made by the kingdom to overhaul the city, corruption always wins. Funds evaporate and no change is effected until the city is flooded, and innocent corpses float in the streets." Today Jeddah lives in a very critical time. If those responsible for the tragedy are not brought to justice, Jeddah might in the future experience similar cycles of disaster.
"If expectations turn out to be true, the European Union will be on the verge of a major shift in its position regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," wrote Mazen Hammad in a comment piece for the Qatari newspaper Al Watan.
According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Sweden, in its capacity as president of the European Union, has drafted a proposal demanding the division of Jerusalem to become the capital of both the Israelis and the Palestinians. The document also urges the Europeans to unilaterally recognise the Palestinian state." This plan represents the first attempt of its kind that aims at handling the final status arrangements between Israelis and Palestinians. It is possible this time that the US would resist pressure from Israeli lobbyists and join the European efforts that are most likely to be endorsed by the UN.
The document voiced the European Union's worries about the impasse in the peace process and expressed its intention to contribute to the settlement of the issue. It also called for a resumption of the moribund peace talks, stressing that the Palestinian state should be a geographically linked entity that includes both the West Bank and Gaza, with East Jerusalem as its capital. * Digest compiled by Mostapha Elmouloudi