x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Saudis and Americans differ sharply on Egypt and Syria The gap on policy, on both issues, is complicated by hints of a US-Iran thaw, an Arab commentator says. Other comment topics: the Syria deal and Gaza's tunnels.

The United States and Saudi Arabia had their differences over Bahrain more than two years ago, but the two allies have never had so much disagreement on more than one regional strategic issue as is the case today over Egypt and Syria, wrote Khaled Al Dakheel, a Saudi writer and academic, in yesterday’s edition of the London-based newspaper Al Hayat.

“Unlike Washington, Riyadh has backed the Egyptian army’s reassumption of power after the removal of the Muslim Brotherhood’s president, Mohammed Morsi,” the author said. “Riyadh went even further and showed its readiness, like other Gulf states, to compensate Egypt in the event that the US and Europe should stop their financial aid to Cairo to put pressure on Egypt’s new rulers.”

Of course, both Washington and Riyadh have an interest in Egypt’s political stability, and perhaps both agree that what happened in Egypt last July was a coup, Al Dakheel said.

“However, aside from that, the disagreement is stark between Saudi Arabia and the US over this issue, even if Washington seems to have accepted the idea of coexisting with the Egyptian interim government – first, because it is just that, interim; and second, in consideration of ties between Cairo and Israel.”

Differences between the US and Saudi Arabia are even greater when it comes to the Syrian crisis. Barring their shared assessment that the situation in Syria is critical, the Saudis and the Americans “disagree on almost everything else: on priorities, on political action and on the objective,” the author observed.

“Saudi Arabia sees in the downfall of the regime a strategic interest for the region and for its stability, not to mention that it is a popular demand for which tens of thousands of people were killed, hundreds of thousands were wounded or have gone missing, and millions were left homeless,” he added.

As Riyadh sees it, the regime of Bashar Al Assad is bloodthirsty, and lives on “the coalition of minorities”, a condition that has forced it to turn into a client state for Iran, a country that also seeks to entrench the minority mentality in the region, the author noted.

While the Obama administration would not disagree about the bloodthirstiness of the Syrian regime, he wrote, it still does not see the downfall of Mr Al Assad as a priority, and prefers instead to engage in communication with Iran and Russia, the regime’s staunchest allies, to resolve the crisis.

And this beginning of a rapprochement between Washington and Iran, which actually began after the election of President Hassan Rouhani, should come as a wake-up call to Saudi authorities, who rely to a significant degree on the US for the preservation of peace and security in the Arabian Peninsula, the writer concluded.

US-Russian deal on Syria is not realistic

On Saturday, intense negotiations in Geneva between the US secretary of state, John Kerry, and the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, led to a deal over the Assad regime’s chemical weapons arsenal.

“It is like buying fish in the sea,” commented columnist Tariq Al Homayed in the London-based paper Asharq Al Awsat. “It’s hard to believe in this plan’s success, or that Bashar Al Assad would deal with it seriously.”

The deal requires the Al Assad regime to present a comprehensive list of its chemical weapons stockpile within one week. It calls for all components of the chemical-weapons programme to be destroyed by mid-2014, in time for the next presidential elections.

Mr Kerry added that noncompliance with the terms of the deal would subject the Syrian regime to military consequences; although Mr Lavrov clearly stated that the deal didn’t include any mention of use of force.

But, who’s to guarantee that the deal would be effectively implemented? US and Russian officials have yet to agree on the number of chemical weapons sites in Syria. And who would decide on the consequences of noncompliance?

“The deal is left to Mr Al Assad’s goodwill under Russian patronage,” the writer suggested. Once again, the Russians managed to save Mr Al Assad, this time with the approval of the Obama administration, he concluded.

An additional sorrow for Gaza’s Palestinians

Following a series of attacks against its troops and establishments, especially in Sinai, the Egyptian government accused Palestinian elements from Hamas and other factions of involvement. As a result, Cairo decided to close down the Rafah passage, the only one that links Egypt to Gaza, and has closed hundreds of tunnels between the two sides.

In comment, the Palestinian daily Al Quds said in its editorial on Sunday that “We appreciate Egypt’s keenness to secure its own safety. It is an unquestionable act of sovereignty. But there is another aspect to this issue and it must be considered.”

The Gaza Strip is home to nearly two million Palestinians who live under Israeli siege. The Rafah border passage with Egypt is the only exit that these people have to let them breathe and manage their livelihoods. To shut it down, partially or completely, would only add to their suffering.

“There must be another way to realise Egypt’s security and safety from terrorism while allowing Gazans to benefit from the little breathing room that the passage allows,” the paper opined.

“Those who attack Egypt’s security are but a few. The overwhelming majority [of Gazans] merely want to survive and seek jobs, treatment, education and other basic daily life needs.”

* Digest compiled by The Translation Desk

translation@thenational.ae