x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Algeria under presssure from both sides

Islamists and western governments are both trying to control Algeria's approach to the fighting in Mali, an Arabic writer says. Other topics today: Syria's inept opposition, and US accommodation with Islamists.

Algeria walks a fine line between the Islamist threat and the pressure from western powers

The French military intervention in Mali has made Algeria the focal point of political and military developments in the African Sahel. This is not due only to Algeria's proximity to the hottest spot on the African continent, but also to its experience in fighting hard-line Islamist groups, wrote Abdel Bari Atwan in the pan-Arab newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi yesterday.

The deadly hostage-taking incident this month placed Algeria in the eye of the storm, ending its efforts to remain uninvolved in recent events in the volatile Sahel region, the writer noted.

In retaliation for French intervention against Islamists in Mali, a group with links to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb attacked a gas plant in Ain Amenas in south-eastern Algeria and took many hostages. The subsequent military operation by the Algerian forces left dozens dead.

Western nations, particularly the UK and France, know how important the Algerian role is in Mali and neighbouring areas. They also know that angering Algeria might have devastating consequences for the intervention.

This is why western powers have not displayed their typical haughtiness, and have abstained from levelling criticisms at Algerian authorities for raiding the plant where western hostages were held. Algiers did fail to consult the concerned Western governments and did not try to negotiate with the kidnappers.

As it stands, the Algerian government is experiencing a test as difficult as any of its previous challenges. As a result, it could not reject the French request to allow combat aircraft to fly through Algeria's air space to attack militant Islamists in northern Mali.

If true, the reports that Algeria has accepted an FBI request to have US interrogators take part in the investigation of the hostage-takers who were arrested would amount to new problems for the Algerian government, not only posed by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, but by Algerian parties as well.

It was striking that Algerian parties held a meeting on Thursday at which they demanded the Algerian government close its airspace to French fighter jets.

The Islamist Movement for the Society of Peace, which was part of the presidential coalition, was among the participating parties.

"We won't be surprised if these same parties take a stand against FBI agents who may be taking part in the investigation of Islamist detainees surviving the raid on the gas complex," the writer said.

"This [FBI] participation amounts to a violation of Algeria's sovereignty."

The Algerian government must be wary of the US and European states' attempts to gradually lure it into getting entangled in a war against hard-line Islamists in the Sahel region - a conflict that might take years and turn into a war of attrition, the writer cautioned.

Syrian opposition risks defeat by its blunders

If there were 100 reasons for the revolution in Egypt and Tunisia, there are 1,000 for the revolution in Syria, and yet it is now in serious danger, noted Majid Kiyali in the London-based Al Hayat newspaper yesterday.

The Syrian revolution is in jeopardy, according to many statements by the leaders of Syria's National Coalition and the Free Army, which have complained about dwindling support in funds, relief and arms supplies as well as the failure of the international community to put an end to the regime's killing machine, the writer said.

But the Syrian revolution is in the balance for other, probably more important, reasons, according to the writer. Two years into Syria's uprising, it has failed to win over the majority of the population, which is still sitting on the fence despite the continued killing and destruction.

Some might rush into blaming such segments for their stance based on sectarian or ethnic grounds. This, however, will solve nothing and the fact remains that players within the Syrian revolution share a part of the responsibility.

They have committed several mistakes: variable rhetoric, messy work methods, statements revealing attempts to unilaterally decide the future of Syria, and the raising of black flags in lieu of the revolution's - acts that have stained the Syrian uprising and made gaining a support base a difficult task.

The US has pragmatic goals with Islamists

After all its hostility to Islamists, it does not stand to reason that the US has now placed its trust in, and thrown its weight behind, Islamists in post-Arab Spring countries. But the US has found itself compelled to deal and cooperate with them, observed Ikram Lamei in an opinion article in the Egyptian paper Al Shorouk.

Three factors prompted the US to cooperate with the Islamist trend: the first is historical experience. The US has tried standing against both the Shia and Sunni strands of Islamism and failed.

Its hostility to the Iranian revolution caused successive crises that culminated in Iran's attempt to obtain a nuclear weapon; and its stand-off with the Sunni strand saw the overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan, but the threat of terrorism persists.

Second, the moderation of the Muslim Brotherhood and its offshoots across the Arab world. The Brotherhood offers a moderate version of Islam that lies somewhere between extreme Islamism and the indoctrinated one that supported dictatorial regimes.

Third, the need for a solution to the Palestinian issue. No party, the US believes, could challenge the Brotherhood in those talks.

But are these factors enough for the US-Islamist coalition to survive?


* Digest compiled by Abdelhafid Ezzouitni