x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

A crisis of stability in Tunisia after Belaid's assassination

Arabic-language newspapers consider the worsening situation in Tunisia, the intractable problem that great powers face in Syria, and the challenges and opportunities presented at the OIC.

Tunisia's civil society shocked by assassination that risks plunging it into a cycle of violence

On Wednesday, Tunisia awoke to the disaster of the assassination of Chokri Belaid, the leading figure in the leftist popular front that is opposed to the Ennahda Islamic movement, the leader of the ruling political coalition, said the pan-Arab newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi in its editorial yesterday.

"Political assassination is foreign to Tunisia and its peaceful, civilised people, especially at this time where the country is going through a difficult phase and is marred by divisions and political polarisation," commented the paper.

Mr Belaid was a powerful figure in the leftist alliance. He was a staunch critic of the Islamist Ennahda and spearheaded calls to bring down its coalition government. He was a secular seeking to establish a liberal civil state in Tunisia. For this reason, and before any criminal investigation could take place, people were quick to point fingers at the Islamist movement.

Ennahda, headed by Rached Al Ghanoucchi strongly condemned the assassination. The prime minister Mr Hamadi Jebali, a prominent member of Ennahda, denounced the crime and qualified it as an attempt to derail Tunisia's revolution.

"Many observers are sceptical about speculations that Ennahda may have been behind the assassination. They deem that the movement couldn't have perpetrated such a crime and risked sparking an assassination war that would inevitably upset the country's stability and in turn, undermine its own power," noted the paper.

On their part, outraged opposition parties responded to the crime with widespread demonstrations throughout Tunis and other cities calling for the departure of the regime in scenes reminiscent of the protests that brought down the former Ben Ali regime two years ago.

"Tunisia is entering a difficult phase. Many are comparing Belaid's assassination to that of Rafik Hariri the former prime minister of Lebanon. But the essential difference between the two cases is that the size of the division in Tunisia between the Islamic and the liberal movements is much more substantial than what it was in Lebanon at the time," suggested Al Quds Al Arabi.

The remnants of the former regime, who still wield power in the country, certainly don't want to see democracy take hold in Tunisia. At the same time, external powers share their vision because what they want is a powerful dictatorship that could fight the Islamist movements that are on the rise in Tunisia.

"We hope that the Tunisian authorities will succeed in unveiling and prosecuting the perpetrators of this crime. At the same time, we call on opposition parties to demonstrate restraint and wisdom by rejecting any calls for sedition," said the paper.

Great powers cannot agree on Assad's fate

The Syrian opposition suffers from confusion due to three reasons, wrote Lebanese columnist Abdulwahab Badrakhan in the London-based newspaper Al Hayat on Thursday.

The first reason, the author wrote, could be because the opposition's "so-called friends" have scaled back their support to the rebels outside and inside the country. Russia and Iran also took advantage of the US fixation over "jihadists" in Syria to put the regime back on the offensive militarily and politically. A third reason is that pressure has been increasing on the National Coalition to accept dialogue to reach a political solution for the crisis.

"The 'acceptable' dialogue mentioned by Moaz Al Khatib, albeit tied to preconditions, spreads frustration among the opposition," the author said. As a result, he added, the US has raised its tone against the regime, saying that the regime is no longer able to rule the country.

As the US exerts leverage to limit support for the opposition due to the insistence of Russia, the author said, the US asks in exchange for optimal conditions for a political solution. According to the author's sources, negotiations between Russia and the US have not yet discussed the fate of Bashar Al Assad, but have discussed what is required of him. There are also differences on how to reach a solution based on the "Geneva Plan". That takes the negotiations back to square one, the author added.

Intractable issues on the agenda at the OIC

The opening of the 12th summit of the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Cairo came in the middle of many crises across the region, from security challenges in the Arab Spring countries, to the situation is Syria, and to the Israeli attacks on Palestinians, wrote the Sharjah-based Al Bayan in an editorial yesterday.

All these problems were on the agenda, and certainly the conference is not able to solve them. The Syrian crisis has humanitarian, military and political dimensions.

"Certainly, the pressure on the Syrian parties to move in the direction of a political solution will have a positive impact."

The condemnation of Israel might not be new, but putting the issue of Israeli attacks on the agenda is worthwhile, especially in the presence of the Jerusalem Committee, which will report on the situation of Palestinians.

"And the issue of sectarian division in the region remains the most important and will be the only issue that can be uniquely addresed at the summit."

"But the current events make the task of reducing these tensions a priority. And leaders need a follow-up committee to figure out the political factors for such big and serious challenges," the paper concluded.


* Digest compiled by Translation Desk